Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces decisive period in bid to prove he's more than a managerial super-sub

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
Fulham FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Solskjaer has overseen nine wins and one draw in 10 games in charge (Source: Getty)

Timely interventions were his calling card as a player, so perhaps it should be no surprise that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the manager has lived up to his old super-sub billing at Manchester United.

Since replacing Jose Mourinho mid-season, Solskjaer has overseen an almost flawless spell utterly at odds with the joyless months of foreboding that preceded it.

Ten wins and a draw from 11 games, renewed hope of finishing in the Premier League top four, dazzling returns to form of key players; it’s fair to say the Norwegian could hardly have fared better.

Such success has not only lifted the clouds over Old Trafford; it has generated a groundswell of support for Solskjaer to be granted an extension to his short-term contract, which ends in June.

From being seen primarily as a welcome place-holder on his return to the club in December in a caretaker capacity, a run of wins and a return to more attacking play quickly made the former United striker a serious candidate for a long-term position.

With results making his links to the Sir Alex Ferguson era seem more than just symbolic, for some former team-mates, including Gary Neville and Andrew Cole, the job is now effectively his to lose.

Mauricio Pochettino, the early favourite for the role, has hardly dented his own claims for the Old Trafford hot-seat, keeping Tottenham in touch with the league leaders despite injuries to key players.

Spurs have exited two cups – a slight blemish, perhaps, given the appetite to compete on all fronts at United – but has an established track record of Champions League qualification despite relatively modest budgets and promoting young players.

He still ticks most of the boxes required of a United manager, although he is the choice of the head and Solskjaer that of the heart.

Defining period

If there remains uncertainty about Solskjaer’s true credentials then it stems from the calibre of opposition that has so far barred his way.

While his improvement has been transformational, eight of the nine league teams faced sit in the bottom half of the table and he is yet to navigate a succession of testing fixtures.

Until now, that is. United host Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of a Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday night, followed by an FA Cup fifth round trip to Chelsea on Monday and a blockbuster match against Liverpool six days later.

The second leg, on 6 March, also precedes a tough domestic double-header against Arsenal and Manchester City.

This period, starting with PSG, is likely to define Solskjaer’s half-season in charge.

It could also have a major bearing on whether he becomes first choice among the club’s powerbrokers or, as he was as a player, is deemed more suitable for a short-term impact.