Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces biggest test yet as Manchester United boss when his side visit Tottenham

 
Michael Searles
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has won five out of five games as Manchester United boss so far (Source: Getty)

After a week in the sun, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be dropped back into the harsh, cold reality of the Premier League on Sunday, where he can expect to face his biggest managerial test yet.


While Manchester United have been enjoying a warm weather training camp in Dubai, this weekend's opponents, Tottenham, continued their fine form with a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Tuesday.

Despite five straight wins for Solskjaer since replacing Jose Mourinho last month, the interim manager's toughest tests unquestionably lie ahead of him.

Tough tests await

The trip to Wembley promises to showcase whether this United side have indeed improved under Solskjaer's leadership or whether there was an element of good fortune about the run of fixtures that he first faced when taking over; perhaps his appointment was even planned to coincide with a favourable schedule.


The 45-year-old has overseen comfortable wins against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Newcastle in the Premier League, as well as Reading in the FA Cup, but Tottenham occupy a level above those opponents and have caused United problems in recent years.

Spurs dispatched United 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season thanks to a brace from Lucas Moura and have won four of the pair's last seven encounters.

Despite that defeat at home, it has been away to Tottenham that United have particularly struggled, failing to beat them on their own turf since a 3-1 win in 2012 – Sir Alex Ferguson's penultimate season before retirement.

Battle to be boss

The club are yet to find the right man to replace their most successful ever manager following three botched attempts, and on Sunday interim boss Solskjaer will come up against the man deemed favourite to fill that void come the end of the season, Mauricio Pochettino.

The Norwegian has made no secret of his desire to take on the role full-time in the summer, regardless of his current obligation to Molde, who have allowed him to temporarily take on his dream job at Old Trafford.

This head-to-head with Pochettino represents a good opportunity for Solskjaer to showcase his worth to Ed Woodward and the United hierarchy against the man they are reportedly keen on replacing him with.

But executive vice-chairman Woodward cannot afford to make another blunder with his next appointment and a one-off result against Spurs alone is unlikely to be enough to convince the board to hire Solskjaer on a permanent basis.

Only a significant upturn in fortune that sees United claim a trophy and return to the Champions League next year looks likely to have the power to do that.

Even then, there are no guarantees of longevity. Success in the Champions League for Chelsea's former interim manager Roberto Di Matteo offered only fleeting job security as his side struggled the following year and he was sacked by November.

Renewed hope

Still, anything Solskjaer achieves, he will not have done it alone. Mike Phelan has rejoined the club as his No2 and, having worked under Ferguson for more than a decade, has the experience to help guide Solskjaer as well as the respect of the dressing room.

So far results on the pitch have been promising. Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku have all rediscovered good form, while Alexis Sanchez's return from injury has come at an opportune time.

There is a renewed positivity surrounding the club, albeit a fragile one with tougher tests on the horizon – starting this weekend.

United face a challenging trip to Arsenal in the next round of the FA Cup toward the end of the month before a daunting February in which they will play Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, with a league game against Liverpool sandwiched in between the two legs of that tie.

Tottenham's title chances

For Tottenham, this weekend's clash poses the opportunity for them to further establish how far they have come under Pochettino.

They sit third in the league and are six points adrift of leaders Liverpool, but anything less than three points and the gap to the top two may begin to feel irredeemable.

They come into the match on the back of what could be a decisive win against Chelsea in their bid to end a trophy drought, but it was a game that would have taken a lot out of them after they were forced to defend resolutely for long periods.

Solskjaer will have his work cut out to give United their first win away to Tottenham since Ferguson's reign.

While his start has rekindled sentiment in the stands, if he fails to deliver what is expected of a manager at England's biggest club in the coming weeks, the warmth he has received from United fans since his arrival could quickly cool.

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