Chelsea travels away to Manchester United fresh off their victory against Paris Saint-Germain. Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a mirror or worst case scenario?
Chelsea hiring Frank Lampard was made possible, in part, due to the success of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. Solskjaer came into a United team that had lost its way and brought back the culture the team was built on. This was one part off the field changes and one part trusting the players to do what was needed rather than defining their every movement on the pitch.
Lampard did exactly the same at Chelsea. He made the club feel like itself again while bringing in youngsters and utilizing tactics that were less regimented than his predecessor. Solskjaer’s time at United very much mirrors Lampard’s, albeit a few months ahead.
That being said, it is not all sunshine and rainbows for Solskjaer. Despite their win against Paris Saint-Germain, the Norwegian’s seat is hot. He helped to rebuild United’s foundation, but the step of building on top of that has stagnated. Perhaps that is a mirror of Lampard’s next few months. Perhaps it is simply the worst case scenario for Lampard. The answer probably depends on this result far more than it should.
It has been noted several times that Solskjaer and Lampard are tactically similar, at least offensively. Rather than practice circuits for hours, both managers train their teams to make the best decisions for the situation and they trust their players to do just like. That means their teams can often play exciting football that the opponent simply cannot stop. It also means that they are very reliant on form and mood because there is not a set structure to fall back on without thought.
The main difference as to how the two sides attack is behind the attack itself. Chelsea generally keeps a 2-3 shape behind the ball whereas United almost always use a 3-2 nowadays. The difference may seem minimal, but it is basically about what phase of play the side is most concerned with plus the players available. A 2-3 shape is better at keeping possession but is weaker to counters. The 3-2 is the opposite. Of course, all that can change if the two are truly elite, but neither Chelsea nor United can really claim that in attack or defense.
Those shapes also usually (though not always) indicate the defensive shape. Chelsea prefers to defend in a 4-4-2, 4-2-4, 4-3-3, or 4-4-1-1 (it changes almost game to game). United will always fall back into a tight 5-3-2 shape. That makes them very difficult for even the best attacking sides to break down and because they have pacy attackers who are comfortable wide and central, they always have an outlet for counters.
But if nothing else, Anthony Martial will be missing through suspension. Edinson Cavani has yet to feature and a first match against Chelsea may be too risky. There is still Marcus Rashford to worry about, and of course Bruno Fernandes’ inevitable penalty.
A loss, or perhaps even a draw, will increase the pressure for both managers. Both clubs needed their foundations rebuilt, but now with that done, they need to build something fantastic on top of it. Paris Saint Germain may buy Solskjaer time and Lampard should (and probably has) the full season to make his case, but this match could cause a lot of that to wash away with a loss or undeserved draw.
Lampard will be hoping his side turn up to prove that Solskjaer’s time at United is a mirror to his own, but an incomplete copy not the worst case scenario for the future.