After a few weeks hiatus, I’ve brought back the Dark Horse Chronicles!
1st Dark Horse of the New Year: Manchester United
Manchester United started the year off in appalling form causing many to start “Jose Out” movements on social media and the real world. Despite a reasonable finish in the 2017-2018 season, this season hasn’t been anything close. It took less than half of a season to have shipped as many goals as they had in the entirety of the prior season. Some of the frustration was undoubtedly due to the near-constant injury problems, especially in central defense but United had been pretty poor throughout the season. That said, I thought that Luke Shaw has shown why he came to United in the first place, and he has been stellar when fit.
Although they came off of last season have been runner-up to an absolutely rampant Manchester City side as well as bringing home the Europa League trophy — this season has been totally different. They managed only 3 wins in the first 7 games, including losses to Brighton and West Ham which were serious shocks to the fanbase and losing to Tottenham which was far more likely in the fans minds. A string of wins in the midst of October and early November brought a little bit of hope back to the club — especially with Mourinho saying that they would be top four by the end of the year. Somehow, the team escaped the group stages in the UEFA Champions League and after a final run of winless games against lesser-opponents and a thrashing at Liverpool, Mourinho was relieved of duty.
…However, there is some happiness in this story. The day following Ed Woodward brought back a long-time (11 year) striker for Manchester United who played for the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Ole was installed as “interim” manager, but has railed off 5 straight wins in the Premier League as well as an FA Cup win over Reading. Pundits mocked Ole’s success decrying that he was only beating poor-quality teams and that his success wouldn’t last. However, after beating Tottenham 2-1 to make the record for most straight wins by a Manchester United manager his alone — he became the bookies co-favorite to become the new, permanent manager of the club.
In the 5 games since Ole Gunnar Solskjær has taken over the club, their fortunes have been vastly different. In 5 games, this United club has average 3.1 goals scored per game and have conceded only 0.67 goals per game. This is in stark contrast to Mourinho’s average over his 15 games. On average during Mourinho’s tenure the club average 1.95 goals scored per game and allowed 1.97 concessions per game. Think about those statistics for a second, United have scored 1.5 times the goals, and were allowing nearly one-third the amount of goals. In addition to the dramatic goal shifts, perhaps even more so than the goal shifts, the life seems to have returned to the players — they are playing free and relaxed, they are enjoying their play again. And it shows, Pogba has returned to startling form and he is far from the only one. Look no further than the Tottenham game; David de Gea made 11 saves in route to a clean sheet of which he had only 2 prior to Jose Mourinho leaving, and he’s already had that many in 5 outings with Solskjær.
I get a little nerdy about this stuff (you’ve probably noticed) but I wanted to take an opportunity to point out just how vastly different the club has been in such a short time:
Mourinho: 1.75 goals scored, 1.375 against
Solskjær: 3.5 goals scored, 1 against
Mourinho:2.14 goals scored , 2.57 against
Solskjær: 2.67 goals scored, 0.33 against
As a result of the shocking turnabout, I’ve chosen to name them my Dark Horse club of the week. Going into the second half of the season, they look a revived club ready to make a serious challenge at the top four. After being as low as 10th in the early season, they are now even on points with Arsenal at fifth and only 6 points from the fourth position held by Chelsea. Undoubtedly, there are substantial hurdles to getting back up to the top of the table but they seem in as good a position as any. History is still on United’s side for Manchester City facing an uphill battle to repeat, and Chelsea and Liverpool have faltered a bit as of late. While not Sir Alex, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have channeled not only his inner Sir Alex, but also working with the Manchester United great. Are we getting close to a new period for the Reds? It’s looking like there could be substantially more glory glory Man United… will the Reds go marching on, on, on?