Craven Cottage Could Offer Ole His Biggest Challenge Yet

Solskjaer needs to heed Sir Alex's warning.

Posted by Jay Mottershead

Manchester United's interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures on the touchline during the FA Cup, Fourth Round match at the Emirates Stadium, London.

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United’s trip to Craven Cottage should be the Red’s chance to make it ten wins under Ole – out of 11 in case you hadn’t heard. Solskjaer’s side have been relentless since he took over and a win over the relegation strugglers should be a formality. We said that against Burnley though. February represents the toughest test for the new manager with a plethora of difficult games. After the Fulham clash of course.

While it’s easy to dismiss this weekend’s game as an absolute banker, now is not the time for complacency. How many times over the past few seasons have the seemingly easy games been the most disappointing? Even under Sir Alex Ferguson trips to relegation fodder occasionally undid us.

With Paris Saint Germain, Chelsea and Liverpool on the horizon by the end of the month we’ll know whether Ole really is the messiah, or just a naughty boy.

Wins away at Arsenal and Spurs have shown with Ole at the wheel there’s little to fear from any fixture, which could offer the manager his biggest problem. Motivating players for the big games is relatively easy. As is motivating players who want to impress a new manager. Motivating players for a game against a side seven points adrift from safety. When you’re on ten match unbeaten run. With a set of tough, seminal games ahead, is a different story.

Listen to Sir Alex

After his retirement Sir Alex Ferguson said:

“With complacency, you do not see it happening, you do not see where it is coming from.

“But, when it hits you, you ­cannot get out of it, you can’t eradicate it.

“So that was an important part of how we constructed a winning mentality at Manchester United, to avoid complacency.”

Ole knows all about a winning mentality at United. His record as a player at Old Trafford was quite frankly ridiculous. Six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a Champions League, and the World Club Cup. Solskjaer earned the right to be labeled a legend. Not least for scoring so many seminal goals during those trophy-laden years.

Winning with United is something Ole is used to as both player and manager. The real question is can he sustain that and ingrain it into his players? Especially when faced with a relatively easy fixture. Part of the solution could lie with rotating the squad. As Ole knows only too well, as did Sir Alex, fringe players can be hungrier to prove themselves. A game against a struggling team gives Ole the chance rest one or two regulars. In theory the players coming in should have a point to prove. They should want to put themselves in contention for a place in the Champions League team. But then again, they should have been performing all season.

The ‘smaller’ games matter

Life under Ole is good and he’s won over the fans who doubted his managerial credentials. The rumours are that if he gets past PSG the permanent job is his. Many fans are arguing those results shouldn’t matter, Ole should get the job regardless. That’s only half true. Ole can afford to lose the games against the likes of PSG and even Liverpool and City. The games that could have people doubting his credentials are the ones featuring the struggling teams. So far Ole has done exactly what he needed to against practically every team. The one time his side let him down was against Burnley. Dropping points against lowly Fulham just two games later could harm his chances of being seen as truly long-term.

Right now Ole is riding a wave of optimism and excellence. A bad result against Fulham could change all that. Player for player there’s not much hope for the West Londoners. If United start thinking the game’s already won though, it could make for a frustrating afternoon. Fulham are desperate for a win and a win against United could kick start a revival. Just as a loss away at Craven Cottage could end United’s. Let’s hope Ole listens to his old boss and remembers complacency can hit you at any time.

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