Neil Humphreys: Manchester United not better off under Solskjaer
One year after his predecessor Mourino's sacking, there is little progress at Old Trafford
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is either an unqualified crony benefiting from the old boys' club or a dynamic coach ready to wake the dozing giants.
And there are relevant statistics to support both claims.
After a year in the job, the Norwegian has accrued one point fewer than the 26 picked up by his predecessor Jose Mourinho.
But equally, after a year in the job, Solskjaer's United are four points away from fourth place. When Mourinho was fired, United were 11 points away from fourth place.
The contrasting statistics make Solskjaer both the hero and villain in the same perplexing narrative.
A year ago tomorrow, he accepted the interim role at his beloved club, promising to rediscover the club's philosophy (his favourite word).
Whether he has succeeded or not depends on how one defines progress. United's decline has mostly stalled, but so has their improvement.
As Christmas approaches, the Red Devils are scampering around in No Man's land, not really gaining ground, but not being shot down either.
If anything, the begrudging admission that Solskjaer hasn't made United any worse is a more telling indictment of the club's malaise. At Old Trafford, coaching success is not being as bad as the last guy.
In a literal sense, that's true. The dressing room cliques that killed off Mourinho's United career have largely dissipated.
But the Paul Pogba enigma (or irritation) remains. He continues to dominate conversation, even in his absence. Solskjaer has achieved no breakthrough with his best player.
So he has gone backwards, to the kids at the academy. Keeping his promise, Solskjaer moved away from rotten apples and returned to United's orchard.
He called upon Mason Greenwood to rescue a point against Everton at the weekend. Still only 18, the striker has scored with three of his last four shots.
Greenwood is now his side's second-highest scorer with seven, an astonishing statistic considering he rarely starts and spends most of his playing time as a wide forward.
In fact, the Manchester media has called upon Solskjaer to feature Greenwood more often, especially before a new, experienced striker arrives in the transfer window and potentially pushes Greenwood down the pecking order.
Ironically, Solskjaer's talk of youth development being in United's DNA while barely starting Greenwood evokes memories of Mourinho's similar comments and treatment of Marcus Rashford. It's not quite hypocrisy, but it's not a consistent policy either.
Solskjaer certainly triumphed over Mourinho in one aspect. Despite the Portuguese manager's foot-stomping demands for a centre-back, he never got one. Solskjaer got Harry Maguire (for far too much money, but still).
But that same storyline plays out in the back four. United's defence hasn't regressed further, but hasn't been significantly upgraded either.
LACK OF CLEAN SHEETS
The Everton draw stretched United's lack of clean sheets to 12 league games - their worst run since 1971.
In total, Solskjaer has managed 54 games in all competitions, winning 28, losing 14 and drawing 12. Those statistics underpin not only United's erratic performances, but also his tactical limitations.
He lacks an alternative to change games.
Mourinho lost his head when he famously lost the plot in his final defeat, a 3-1 humbling at Liverpool, of all places.
The difference between the managers were stark. Juergen Klopp introduced Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored twice, and swung the contest in the Reds' favour. Mourinho had nothing.
He was sacked the next day.
But Solskjaer hasn't conjured a radical alternative either.
He has undoubtedly made the Red Devils more aesthetically appealing, encouraging the faster, counter-attacking play that he first tested at the Singapore National Stadium in July.
Rashford, Daniel James, Jesse Lingard and Greenwood relish the chance to launch themselves behind counter-attacking sides, such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, defeating all three.
But when lesser sides sit deep, Solskjaer shows himself to be less willing to turn than Phil Jones in his own box.
At Liverpool, Klopp always finds a way. At Tottenham, Mourinho is slowly finding different ways against the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers. After a year in the job, Solskjaer remains a manager short of a back-up plan.
But he has emulated his managerial hero in one regard and it's a worrying one. Sir Alex Ferguson and Solskjaer both built their sides in their own images.
Ferguson's United were unapologetically aggressive, relentless and devoted to victory at almost any cost. Solskjaer's United are idealistic and inoffensive.
His wins against City and Spurs were received with a pat on the head, like wishing a little boy "well done" for going that extra mile in his schoolwork.
Solskjaer's United are more likeable, but only because there's nothing to fear.