Solskjaer provides perfect riposte to PSG setback

This was a tie which began with two managers, both newly installed, both with outstanding openings to their campaign, but neither certain to be at their respective clubs next season.

Solskjaer provides perfect riposte to PSG setback

This was a tie which began with two managers, both newly installed, both with outstanding openings to their campaign, but neither certain to be at their respective clubs next season.

It may well have ended with futures decided for both.

Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri, having lost with a whimper as Manchester United cruised into the FA Cup quarter-finals, is now under the kind of pressure that almost all his predecessors at Stamford Bridge can empathise with — and few have survived.

Long forgotten are memories of the opening 12 games of his tenure in which his side won nine games, drew two and lost just one (the Community Shield).

They were already fading into the distance as he took his place in the dugout at Stamford Bridge and they are now further overshadowed by boos from his home crowd, chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ and a general frustration that ‘Sarriball’ isn’t working.

A 2-0 defeat, which was totally convincing for United, means all the plaudits which came Sarri’s way earlier in the season — when he arrived as a hero from abroad ready to heal the damage done to club relationships during the fractious Antonio Conte era — are forgotten too.

A 6-0 defeat humiliation at Manchester City, who had also been responsible for that season-opening defeat at Wembley, brought the fragility of the Blues revival sharply into focus,especially when allied to a 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth, a rare defeat at Arsenal and a 3-1 drubbing at Tottenham which was far worse than the scoreline made it appear.

So to go out of the FA Cup so tamely, on a day in which reports suggested Zinedine Zidane was already being lined up as his replacement, leaves the Italian firmly in the firing line.

On television and online, pundits wondered how long he would survive, Chelsea fans indicated they had lost their patience and moaned, with some justification, about their manager’s poor substitutions and his consistent ignoring of winger Hudson-Odoi. They moaned, too, about a tepid second half, lacking in fight or desire.

Compare that to the opposite bench and the reaction he got from his players after disappointment last week.

The pre-match situation for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a little less stressful, you would presume, given the passion he has generated on the Stretford End since taking over as caretaker manager from Jose Mourinho and guiding United to 10 wins, one draw and one defeat in his first 12 games in charge.

A record which almost mirrored Sarri’s start.

But even so he only had to look over his shoulder at the opposing manager to know how quickly things can change and feel the shadow of uncertainty hoveringmenacingly in the distance.

A poor performance against Paris St Germain in the Champions League suddenly had the Ole fan club wobbling, at least those who make their points on a keyboard rather than in a stadium. Did United’s tactically weak display against the French champions show their coach was not up to the task? Or did it just show, as Mourinho insisted time and time again, that he didn’t have the players to match them?

Common sense says the latter but there isn’t a lot of that in football these days, so a lot of eyes were on Solskjaer at the Bridge, especially with United due to face bitter rivals Liverpool next in the Premier League this weekend.

Three defeats in a row in three competitions, all against major opponents for silverware, would be hard to defend and difficult to recover from. Even for a bona fide Manchester United legend.

The way his players reacted, however, was a credit to his managerial skills. They controlled the game, with Paul Pogba back to his best.

“It is a beautiful win,” the midfielder said.

“ Today was a great performance from the team, all of them. We are really pleased with that win.

“We are Man Utd. We play to win trophies. The manager took this job because he can do it. He trusts us and we trust him.”

Could Chelsea’s most important players say exactly the same about their manager?

That’s an uncomfortable question to ask at Stamford Bridge and Sarri may not want to hear the answer.

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