When Louis van Gaal took his new-look Manchester United side to recently promoted Leicester City in September 2014, the signs were ominous for the Foxes.
Facing an attack featuring Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, new signing Angel Di Maria was now pulling strings in behind as well.
Van Persie and Di Maria helped United into a 3-1 lead, yet the capitulation they suffered to end up leaving the East Midlands with their backsides smarting after a 5-3 defeat was a serious warning.
Despite Tyler Blackett’s red card, the defensive frailties on display on that sunny Sunday afternoon were to become a staple of the post-Ferguson era.
Manchester United’s defence had been a problem area ever since Ferguson left
Sir Alex always maintained ‘attack wins you games, but defence wins you titles’ throughout his trophy-laden years in the Old Trafford hot seat.
Yet the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ became a venue sides no longer feared playing at, teams were no longer beaten before a ball was kicked.
Jose Mourinho failed to stop this rot upon succeeding the Dutchman, his desire to get a new centre half during the summer window of 2018 saw the club linked with the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Giorgio Chiellini, Sergio Ramos and Toby Alderweireld, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
It took the inexperienced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to slowly, but surely, change the United mentality and restore some of the fundamentals of Sir Alex.
Despite looking like a delighted schoolboy at times rather than a Man United manager, Solskjaer has all the ingredients to succeed at Old Trafford
Although the signing of Bruno Fernandes in the January 2020 may well be recognised as the turning point of Solskjaer’s legacy, his commitment to fixing the porous backline is truly outstanding.
It is extremely rare for modern managers to be as efficient or as calculating in their approach to the transfer window as the Norwegian, yet ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ is as ruthless in negotiations as he was in front of goal.
The Manchester United boss is yet to make a slip in the market in the space of 15 months

  • Aaron Wan-Bissaka – Crystal Palace, £50m
  • Daniel James – Swansea City, £15m
  • Harry Maguire – Leicester City, £80m
  • Bruno Fernandes – Sporting Lisbon, £47m
  • Odion Ighalo – Shenghua Shangai, Loan

Bringing Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka to the club instantly fortified the defence and, prior to the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, was heralding serious results.
In their last 10 games before football was suspended, United kept eight clean sheets in all competitions – their best run for two years.
McTominay sealed the points for Manchester United with an injury-time goal against Man City
They were unbeaten for those 10 games, representing their longest run without defeat for 12 months.
A 2-0 victory in the Manchester derby against Pep Guardiola’s rampant attacking force on March 8 saw the hosts restrict their neighbours to just four shots on target, despite conceding 73% of the ball.
The only two goals they have conceded in this time frame were David De Gea’s cataclysmic error against Everton and Emmanuel Dennis’ lob over Sergio Romero for Club Brugge in the Europa League in February.
Before Christmas, United had the joint-fewest clean sheets in the division, with only Sheffield United making more errors leading to goals.
Since then, United look like a completely different side.
Darren Fletcher says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is RIGHT man for Manchester United
Blades stopper Dean Henderson is on loan from Manchester United
After conceding a goal in every 10 shots faced on average in their first 36 games, United are now conceding just once every 55 shots.
Only Paris Saint-Germain have kept more clean sheets in Europe’s top five leagues in all competitions and their tally in regards to their domestic rivals is seriously impressive.
The Red Devils have 20 clean sheets this season, three more than Liverpool and five more than Man City.
Of those clean sheets, 12 came after Christmas.
Solskjaer has utilised the versatility of his defenders to the fullest with these sides playing Man City and Everton, respectively
Undoubtedly, the emergence of Harry Maguire as a talisman and now captain of the United side has played a huge part in revitalising Solskjaer’s beleaguered side.
As well as being a no-nonsense type of defender, Maguire has the ability to dribble the ball out from the back and this has proved vital to their style of play.
Only Wilfried Zaha, Jack Grealish, and Adama Traore have completed more dribbles in the Premier League than the England international and he is the only defender in the top 10.
Whether in a back three or a back five, teams have to close Maguire down when he marauds forward, thus giving other players in the team more space. But it is not just his attacking play which has helped United, the partnership he has formed with Victor Lindelof is vital to United’s almost impermeable defence.
Lindelof and Maguire have formed a solid partnership at the back for United
In the space of two months, United kept nine clean sheets in the 13 games they started alongside one another.
Buoyed by the presence of Nemanja Matic and the resurgent Fred in front of them, this statistic compares favourably to two clean sheets kept in the 19 games when Maguire and Lindelof started together in the first five months of the season.
Solskjaer may not have been every Manchester United fans first choice to take charge after Mourinho and he may still have to convince some ardent supporters.
But the hero of the 1999 is doing all he can to bring back success and silverware to this famous club.