Neil Humphreys: Man United can make top four
Another easy fixture list lies ahead after Solskjaer's men pass Spurs test
Before Christmas, it was unthinkable. Now, it seems genuinely possible. Manchester United could qualify for the Champions League. Here's why.
1) FIXTURES SWEETER THAN AN OLE SMILE
When Jose Mourinho was fired, my earlier column suggested that a benign run of games could potentially see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer embark upon an unbeaten run until the Tottenham clash yesterday (Singapore time).
Of course, the caretaker manager went one better and his reward for an impressive victory is another gentle fixture list in the EPL.
Aside from Liverpool near the end of February, United face Brighton, Burnley, Leicester, Fulham, Crystal Palace and Southampton between now and early March; an astonishingly kind schedule for a club still basking in their Solskjaer glow.
By the time the Red Devils head to the Gunners on March 9, they could already be above their opponents and closing in on Chelsea.
2) FREEDOM FAVOURS THE BRAVE
If the buzzword around Mourinho's dour camp was "negative", then "freedom" is the word of the month among Solskjaer's swashbucklers.
Paul Pogba has taken considerable pleasure in highlighting his newfound freedom and its role in his Tottenham-splitting, game-defining pass to set up Marcus Rashford's winner.
Even a Ferrari sputters when the handbrake is left on, but it's off now and United's attack practically pushed Tottenham's centre-backs down Hugo Lloris' throat.
Ole-ball can be frenetic and unpredictable, but the attack-first approach seems to be as much fun to play as it is to watch.
For an hour, United's style of play was a nostalgic joy: fast, mobile and undoubtedly inspired. Like the baby-faced assassin of old, Solskjaer's killers come with smiles.
3) OLE'S CLASS
Solskjaer is nobody's fool. On the contrary, he made a fool of the respected coach who is tipped to replace him. Until Tottenham came along, momentum had been enough to ease past mediocre opposition. Most men perform better on their honeymoons and the Red Devils were no exception.
But goodwill was never going to be enough against Spurs.
So Solskjaer brought his tactical A-game. He opted for a midfield diamond that took out Dele Alli and Harry Winks and stopped Tottenham playing through the middle.
Paying Solskjaer the highest compliment, Mauricio Pochettino changed his formation to deal with United's stronger spine.
Solskjaer has improved morale, but he can work wonders with a whiteboard, too.
United have less to fear in crunch games against Liverpool and Manchester City in February and March respectively. Solskjaer might be a stand-in, but he's no coaching dummy.
3) BIGGEST STAR BETWEEN STICKS
Earlier this season, David de Gea was the victim of some seriously myopic criticism.
Apparently, he wasn't the same goalkeeper, no longer the flavour of the month.
Of course, de Gea had really suffered from playing behind shattered defences for both club and country - and United's back four remain a brittle bunch.
The Spaniard made mistakes along the way, certainly, but his bandy-legged, octopus antics at Wembley yesterday were a reminder that nobody does it better when it comes to goalkeeping fundamentals.
He's still the best at keeping out goals. His instinctive positioning is practically bat-like, as if relying on echolocation to detect incoming objects.
Despite conjuring 20 shots at goal, Tottenham never got one past his bendy legs. He stopped three points from becoming one and will pick up a few more in the chase for the Champions League spot.
4) RIVALS ARE WOBBLING
Arsenal manager Unai Emery bares an unfortunate resemblance to Dracula and the blood drained from his face at the weekend. The Gunners were woeful at West Ham.
Scoring inconsistencies, a reluctance to spend and the on-going row with Mesut Oezil have all conspired against them at the worst possible time.
Elsewhere, Chelsea required a wonder goal from Willian to defeat the average Magpies as the Blues played again without a recognised striker.
Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are unreliable and the transfer speculation over Callum Hudson-Odoi remains an unwanted distraction.
Neither Chelsea nor Arsenal can settle on a reliable line-up and face each other at the Emirates this Saturday, which ensures one or both of the teams above United must drop points.
Moreover, Tottenham's defeat was an unwelcome reminder that their first XI is essentially a street on a Hollywood film set, attractive to look at, but there's nothing behind.
Spurs had no replacement for the injured Eric Dier and it showed.
Suddenly, ridiculously, the Red Devils are the in-form side and in a hurry to reach the top four.
Unlike Cardiff's Neil Warnock and his daft comments about Brexit, Solskjaer is a manager who can still see a bright future in Europe.