Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's key test at Man Utd is even bigger than outwitting Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola

James Robson
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In case you didn’t know, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the man for the big occasion.

Whether he is the man to resurrect Manchester United’s glory days is still up for debate.

But after coming through a critical week in his troubled Old Trafford reign with maximum points against Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, he deserves more time to convince his doubters.

Such performances are becoming a habit. And when it happens this often, it can’t just be dumb luck.

In six games against the clubs above them or directly below, United have won five and drawn the other.

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They are the only team to take a point off runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool this season – and on that occasion they could consider themselves unfortunate to concede a late equaliser.

As impressive as that record is, there’s an equally grim one relating to teams in the lower reaches of the table.

Defeats to Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Bournemouth and West Ham.

As uplifting as this week has been – with thoroughly deserved victories against Tottenham and now Manchester City – Solskjaer won’t survive if his team only show up for the big occasion.

Which is why all eyes will be on Everton next week.

What Solskjaer has proved is that he has the stomach for the fight and enough conviction in his methods to face up to the pressure that has confronted him.

He is a natural risk-taker – and that will always appeal to those with United in their blood.

It would have been easy – understandable even – to batten down the hatches and just try to get through a make-or-break week with the minimum of damage done.

As much as Solskjaer was adamant his job wasn’t on the line, back-to-back defeats would surely have pushed him to the brink.

In that context, his approach and attitude were worthy of eternal credit - if not something at which to marvel.

Just as against Spurs midweek, Solskjaer gambled and was rewarded for his boldness.

At the home of the back-to-back champions, he banked on the speed of his forwards to unsettle a City defence that has looked susceptible when put under pressure this season.

It didn’t take long for Daniel James to prove he had the beating of Angelino, even with a standing start.

Marcus Rashford – who is looking every bit the stellar talent with each passing week - cut in from the left to exploit the space between John Stones and Kyle Walker.

Meanwhile City’s midfield and defence didn’t know how to handle Anthony Martial dropping deep and Jesse Lingard bursting forward.

It is no exaggeration to say United could have scored four times before the half-hour mark.

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Considering some of the one-sided encounters between these rivals in recent years, it was a shock to the system to just about everyone inside the Etihad.

By the time Rashford dusted himself off after being brought down by Bernardo Silva in the area and converted his 23rd-minute penalty, Ederson had already been called into action twice.

Martial’s low drive then beat the City goalkeeper at his near post, while Rashford had fluffed one golden opportunity and struck the bar with another effort.

In contrast, City had to wait until the 33rd minute to register their first shot on target – a long-range effort from David Silva that went straight at David de Gea.

City will point to their total dominance of possession when chasing down United’s lead.

By the end it was 72 percent in the favour Guardiola’s side – but in response the visitors demonstrated a defensive resolve that was every bit as impressive as their cutting edge at the other end.

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Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were immense.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka limited Raheem Sterling’s threat – and ahead of them the block and energy provided by Scott McTominay and Fred provided a constant frustration to Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.

Throughout the United team, no player dipped below an 8/10 rating – compelling evidence that Solskjaer’s dressing room remains behind him.

Of course City responded.

And their almighty effort to rescue a game that had gone within 29 minutes is again a testament to performance of Solskjaer’s team.

De Bruyne’s perfect cross before the break deserved better than to be headed wide by Gabriel Jesus from eight yards.

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Sterling weaved his way across the face of goal at the start of the second half, but delayed his shot for too long and the chance was gone.

But rarely did City open United up, despite dominating possession for a good hour of the game.

When substitute Nicolas Otamendi headed in Riyad Mahrez’ corner with five minutes left it set up a severe test of United’s character.

Ilkay Gundogan immediately forced De Gea into a low save, but it would have been cruel to see Solskjaer denied the points.

This week has the feeling of a turning point - a spring board to his United reign.

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With Everton, Watford, Newcastle and Burnley to come, it is the perfect opportunity to build from this moment.

Anything other than that and it will simply be looked upon as another false dawn.

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