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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tactical acumen overcomes Mauricio Pochettino

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tactical acumen overcomes Mauricio Pochettino


Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino admits it would be a "massive" blow if Harry Kane is sidelined by an ankle injury while Son Heung-Min is away at the Asian Cup.

Kane suffered an injury at the end of Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Manchester United and limped off the Wembley pitch very gingerly, while Spurs are now losing Son to international duty and could be without the South Korean until the competition's final on Feb. 1.

"My worry is that it was a bad tackle in the last moment," Pochettino told the BBC. "It wasn't the intention of the United player but it was a bad tackle and now he has a bit of a swelling on his ankle and he was limping after the game.

"We are going to lose Son for the Asia Cup and if Harry Kane suffers an injury, it is going to be massive for us."

Moussa Sissoko also limped off at the end of the first half with a groin problem as Spurs' injury-hit season continued.

"That is the risk in any competition," said Pochettino in his post-match news conference. "The people, they criticised me when we played Harry Kane for 15 or 20 minutes at Tranmere. I told you the injury can appear when you don't know when, and look today, [it happened] in the last action of the game.

"First of all we need to assess him and Moussa and hope it's not a big issue and then we're going to try and find a way to play if we are to lose them, but we hope it's not going to be a long period. I think Moussa is only a small thing but we will see. It was a small thing in his groin."

Tottenham striker Vincent Janssen has recovered from a foot injury and scored in an Under-23 match against West Ham on Sunday. But, asked whether the Dutchman has a chance of rekindling his Spurs career and making his first senior appearance of the season, Pochettino replied tersely: "No, he's not in my plans."

Pochettino professed himself to be pleased with Spurs' performance against United despite the defeat, having seen his side muster 21 shots, with 11 on target, but fail to beat David De Gea.

"The performance I am so happy with," he said. "The last 45 minutes, the second half, we played so well. I think we created enough chances to score and win the game. De Gea made 11 saves which made him man of the match in the end.

"For me it was one of the best performances that I've seen, after four and a half years, at Tottenham -- the best 45 minutes.

"My feeling today is in the opposite way to when we played at Old Trafford in Manchester. We won that game 3-0 but I wasn't happy. Today, after the defeat, I'm very pleased with the performance.

"If you want to build a team and a structure for the future and be close to winning titles, that's the way you have to work and play.

"I'm disappointed with the result of course -- I cannot talk in a different way -- but I'm very happy with the reaction after we conceded the goal and in the second half we created more than enough chances to score, to draw or win the game."

LONDON -- With 95 minutes on the clock and Manchester United leading 1-0, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stood on the edge of his technical area and urged substitute Diogo Dalot to move away from the touchline on the far side to congest space in midfield and restrict Tottenham options through the centre of the pitch.

Seconds later, Mike Dean's final whistle ensured that Solskjaer passed his first big test as United caretaker manager in emphatic fashion, with that small instruction serving as a microcosm of his day. By barking instructions to Dalot, he showed he would not allow his players to switch off and forget the game plan until the last ball had been kicked.

There were many reasons for United's win at Wembley -- the renewed confidence of those in red was a key one -- but this was a game in which Solskjaer showed that he can take on a highly rated opponent and win the tactical battle.

Until now, momentum and the feel-good factor had propelled United to victories against five teams who, with all due respect, they should expect to beat on every occasion. But a visit to Spurs was a different matter, especially because their coach, Mauricio Pochettino, is the man most wanted by the United hierarchy to become Jose Mourinho's permanent replacement.

It would be naïve to think that will change on the back of this result, but if Solskjaer is to have a genuine chance of landing the job for himself, he has to prove himself against the best, so this result placed a very big tick in that box.

Yes, there will be bigger and tougher challenges to come. Next month's Champions League round-of-16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain will be a significant marking post, as will Old Trafford encounters with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea between now and the end of the season.

But after his United team brushed aside Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading, Solskjaer had to make a statement versus a big-six rival, and he did that by outfoxing Pochettino with a plan that set out to deny Spurs time and space to attack through the middle.

Jesse Lingard had a key role, delayed to stop Harry Winks receiving the ball from the home team's defenders and form part of a three-man forward line, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, that offered blistering pace and nonstop movement on the counterattack.

The trio had threatened before Rashford's 44th-minute goal, which saw the England forward race onto a majestic Paul Pogba pass before firing a clinical strike past Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into the far corner.

Pogba's ball encapsulated the change in mood and performance at United since Solskjaer replaced the sacked Mourinho last month. It was the pass of a player at the top of his game, who has the confidence to take the risky option rather than play it safe.

Had Mourinho still been in charge, Pogba might not even have started this game -- the fixture last season saw him replaced after 63 minutes of a 2-0 defeat -- but the French World Cup-winning midfielder admitted afterward that the change of manager has been transformative.

"I am enjoying playing my football now," Pogba said. "I like to be more attacking, I had to defend too much before, and that is not my best attribute. This is my position. The manager tells me to get into the box and score goals. The best example is Frank Lampard."

"I was benched, and a football player on the bench; I'm not sure if he can accept that," Pogba added later. "Now I'm taking pleasure again, I play again, I'm doing what I love, so it's normal. And we're winning, so indeed we play with a smile always."

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Solskjaer has not revived Pogba merely with an arm around his shoulder. Rather, by placing Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera alongside in midfield, the former Juventus player has freedom to break forward and cause havoc, as he did in the second half. Indeed, for all of David De Gea's 11 saves, Pogba's influence at the other end earned United victory, and he was only denied two goals by saves from his France teammate Lloris.

So while Solskjaer's tactical plan was the foundation for victory, which moves United to within six points of fourth-placed Chelsea, the 45-year-old's personality has been just as important in turning the team around. Players were down and less motivated under Mourinho, but De Gea made it clear that the gloom has lifted.

"The manager brought some happiness," De Gea said. "The players are playing well and the team is very strong now. This is the real Manchester United." Other players have rediscovered their form under the new manager, with Matic once again impressing in midfield after enduring a dismal past 12 months and Victor Lindelof a mainstay at centre-half.

Tellingly, Solskjaer spoke in his postmatch news conference about his team's spirit before, knowingly or otherwise, name-checking every one of his starting eleven inside the space of three minutes.

Each of his back four was praised, with De Gea described as the "best in the world" and "now challenging Edwin (van der Sar) and Peter (Schmeichel) for the number one spot" in the pantheon of United's greatest goalkeepers. Matic and Ander Herrera were "fantastic," while Solskjaer spoke of the "blistering pace" of Rashford, Martial and Lingard, before talking up Pogba's qualities.

That is the simple side of the game -- making players feel happy and full of belief -- but by beating Spurs, Solskjaer showed he can also do the hard part of delivering tactically. If this continues, he is going to become a serious contender for the top job on a permanent basis.