An immediate impact
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has gone into his reign as interim manager vowing to give every player a clean slate so he will not have worried too much about Nemanja Matic’s recent performances for example.
Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Fred and Andreas Pereira may have only made the bench against Cardiff, which confused some United fans pre-match, but it proved an inspired first team sheet.
It was noticeable how so many under perfuming players raised their game and played with renewed confidence in the 5-1 rout. Which is damning for both the players and Jose Mourinho given recent performances.
All while playing the kind of football Solskjaer, Mike Phelan, Kieran McKenna, Michael Carrick and United fans want to see. Something Mourinho never managed.
The players are smiling again
There were plenty of smiles on those United players’ faces as they get off the bus to a chorus of boos from a large gathering of Cardiff fans. Despite their recent struggles, United are still the hottest ticket in town.
Ashley Young and Paul Pogba were even seen sharing a joke walking into the players’ entrance; what a contrast to those silent players who could barely look at the media as they walked past the mixed zone at Anfield six days ago.
That good feeling transmitted onto the field and this was a team full of confidence again, scoring five goals in a league game for the first time in the post-Ferguson era.
Catching the eye
United players, like the fans, want to play on the front foot and for too long Mourinho adapted his system and team selection depending on the opposition. Even against out of form West Ham and Southampton.
Solskjaer, though, set his side up to dominate this game and there were plenty of positive signs: Victor Lindelof was allowed to cross the half way line, Paul Pogba grew into the game to make his mark, United’s front line were encouraged to rotate on the break and United pressed effectively in the final third.
It was the perfect start.
Finally the right attitude against a newly-promoted side
Neil Warnock rolled out the welcome mat in his programme notes, calling Solskjaer a ‘legend’ and predicting that United will ‘again hit the heights of previous years’.
And United did not look overawed by his terriers come kick-off under the lights in a packed stadium where the fans really get on top of the players. That was an environment Mourinho struggled in when his side was expected to win against a newly-promoted side.
Tellingly, United did not wobble when Cardiff pulled a goal back at 2-1; just a few minutes later Anthony Martial capped a wonderful, flowing team move to seal all three points with a half to play.
The gap gets smaller
It was a day of shocks in the Premier League with Manchester City humbled by Crystal Palace and Chelsea deservedly beaten at home by Leicester. But United were never in danger of losing this one.
Whisper it quietly, but Solskjaer’s side are now eight points off the top four and full of confidence ahead of festive fixtures against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle. That gap could yet get smaller.