Man United's Solskjaer: I am Martial's biggest critic
MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United's ups and downs this season have been enough to induce motion sickness but there are signs that maybe, just maybe, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found a remedy. The Norwegian watched his team bush Watford aside with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford on Sunday and while the performance was impressive, the biggest positive was what it means for the bigger picture.
United built on victory at Chelsea by winning back-to-back Premier League games for just the third time this season, stretching their unbeaten run in all competitions to six and keeping the top four in sight. Bruno Fernandes, the orchestrator, scored his first United goal and made the other two while, at the other end, the defence kept a third consecutive clean sheet in the league for the first time in a year.
- Report: Man United 3-0 Watford
- Man United ratings: Fernandes 8/10 in impressive win
- Solskjaer: I am Martial's biggest critic
With Fernandes and Odion Ighalo added in January and Scott McTominay back from injury, the squad is not looking quite so stretched. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira weren't even needed on Sunday, watching the action from the stands. United were even on the right end of a contentious VAR decision when Troy Deeney had an equaliser chalked off when Andre Marriner decided Craig Dawson had handled in the build-up to the goal. (Anthony Martial made it 2-0 mere minutes after Watford's disallowed goal.)
Things are, finally, looking up.
"It was a very good win," said Solskjaer. "Two good wins and two clean sheets, some goals to celebrate, now we want to kick on." A trip to Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday gives United the chance to win three league games in a row for the first time since January 2019.
This Sunday, however, the United boss might have feared the worst just a minute after kick-off. Victor Lindelof attempted to find Aaron Wan-Bissaka with a simple five-yard pass and succeeded only in hitting Anthony Taylor, the fourth official, who was minding his own business in front of the dug outs. Inside the opening five minutes, Nemanja Matic and Harry Maguire tripped over themselves and gifted a chance to Troy Deeney. Even MUTV, who always try to find the positives, could only describe the defending as "all over the place."
Afterwards, Solskjaer's labelled United's start "a shambles." Fortunately for him, they gradually improved and after Wan-Bissaka, Anthony Martial, Daniel James and Fred had all missed chances of varying degrees of difficultly, Bruno Fernandes won and scored a penalty to register his first goal since his £47 million move from Sporting Lisbon. His run-up included a skip and the goal -- United's first in the league at Old Trafford since Jan. 11 -- meant Solskjaer went down the tunnel at half-time with a spring in his step.
Fernandes has introduced some much-needed creativity to the midfield and may have also solved the problems from the penalty spot. United have failed with four of the nine penalties awarded to them this season but Fernandes has not missed one for nearly four years. It was also the Portugal midfielder who picked up the ball to slide in Martial to score United's second. The Frenchman's finish, conjured while three Watford defenders and Foster descended on him, was exquisite but the goal was created by Fernandes' vision.
"[Fernandes] has come in and done really well and given everyone a boost," said Solskjaer. "It means more than just getting a player in. The fans are used to players with that personality, mentality and quality. He has come in from day one and felt like a presence in the group from first minute, demanding the ball. Some players take some time in warming up, but he has felt confident right away.
"[He is] a bit of a mix between [Paul] Scholes and [Juan Sebastian] Veron -- the temperament of Veron and a lot of the quality of Scholesy."
Fernandes got the assist for Mason Greenwood's goal, too, but that was more about the teenager's clinical finish in finding the top corner with his left foot following an incisive counter-attack.
When United thrashed Chelsea on the opening weekend of the season, it was followed by a draw at Wolves. Victory over Leicester in September came a week before a dire defeat at West Ham. After beating Manchester City in December, it was a draw with Everton. This time it was different as United endured that momentum built by the 2-0 win at Chelsea on Monday was not squandered.
"We need to get that consistency," Brandon Williams had said before the match. "A few teams around the position that we're in are all playing each other this weekend, so hopefully we can get the three points and capitalise on getting to fourth spot."
For a change, United backed up the talk.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he is one of Anthony Martial's biggest critics but praised the striker after he bagged his third goal in as many games during the victory over Watford.
Martial scored the second in United's 3-0 win at Old Trafford after Bruno Fernandes has scored his first goal for the club with a first-half penalty. Teenager Mason Greenwood added the third as United moved up to fifth in the table, three points off the Champions League places.
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"I am delighted with the week Anthony has had," Solskjaer said after the France forward scored in three consecutive games for the first time since 2017. "He has got his critics and I am one of the biggest.
"He has come up with a No. 9's goal against Chelsea, he did everything to get the goal against Bruges and today is more the Anthony we know about. The skill is just mind-blowing but I want more from him."
As well as Martial, Fernandes was also central to an impressive United performance. The January signing scored from the spot and set up both Martial and Greenwood to claim the man-of-the-match award.
"In today's market, I think we got a good deal," Solskjaer said. "He has come in and done really well and given everyone a boost.
"It means more than just getting a player in. The fans are used to players with that personality, mentality and quality.
"He has come in from day one and felt like a presence in the group. Some players take some time in warming up but he felt confident right away.
"It is a bit of a mix between [Paul] Scholes and [Juan Sebastien] Veron -- the temperament of Veron and a lot of the quality of Scholesy."
While it was a positive day for Solskjaer, Martial and Fernandes, it was a quiet afternoon for Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira after both were left out of the squad.
The pair paid the price for a disappointing team performance against Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday and Solskjaer has warned his squad that following the January arrival of Fernandes and Odion Ighalo, there is more competition for places.
"We picked a squad of 18 we felt covered all bases," Solskjaer said. "There is more competition for places so of course your standard has to improve.
"We need to be more consistent and kick on. This week has been a good one."