Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led Manchester United to the Europa League final.

It may not be the Champions League just yet, but this is an important step for United on their way to another serious leap into competition next season.

This is a chance for United to become winners instead of almost men, validate Solskjaer’s project and finally celebrate the fans.

Getting to the finals by itself is an achievement, although a fan is not happy, just 90 minutes away from silver, the team has a great chance of taking the next step.

But before we worry too much about whether United will beat Villarreal, there is plenty of time for that. Let’s take stock and see how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made this team European finalists.

(Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre / Insidefoto / LightRocket via Getty Images)

fitness

When Solskjaer took over as manager, he found that his team was lacking in fitness. This was evident in the way they let up at the end of the 2018/19 season.

The players couldn’t keep up with the style of football he wanted to play. Now it’s a different story.

The season is in the final stages and United’s players are getting better. Stars like Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani are peaking and showing no signs of slowing down.

United are competitive all over the field, in every single game. Solskjaer and his coaching staff deserve great recognition for this.

Patience

United’s coaching staff have stuck to their methods and trusted the core group of players who have been close together in four previous semi-finals. They were confident that the team’s luck would change.

Perhaps more poignant, Solskjaer benefited from patience himself, and United’s board of directors supported him during the lows too.

There were lows, the semi-final losses, the away defeat in Newcastle in October 2019 and the 6-1 loss to Spurs this season.

Solskjaer was given time and he benefited from it. Now United is getting closer to being rewarded with a trophy.

Man management

Most of the problem with Jose Mourinho being fired in 2018 was that the United States’ squad was miserable. This was evident on the field and in training sessions.

Solskjaer became the opposite of Mourinho and gave the squad room to breathe and the freedom to express their personality on and off the field.

Luke Shaw attributed its turnaround to Solskjaer’s man management in the form, and Paul Pogba clearly benefited from it too.

This approach from Solskjaer has allowed United to get more out of the team’s fortune. The squad likes to play under him and the results on the pitch confirm that.

(Photo by Ash Donelon / Manchester United via Getty Images)

attitude

Solskjaer wanted to rid the squad of players who didn’t want to be there and replace them with those who did.

It was a gradual process, but it looks like Solskjaer is getting it right.

Players like Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have great attitudes and have become automatic, undisputed starters.

Any player who comes in now has to conform to the established ethos of the roster. No prima donna wanted, no one here for a quick paycheck. United players want to win and win for the club and the fans as well as for themselves.

Experience

United came excruciatingly close last season. Solskjaer tried to fix this by adding experience to his squad to help players get over the line.

Maybe his ultimate goal was to sign Edinson Cavani earlier this summer, but he deserves credit for agreeing to the move and bringing him Uruguayans.

Cavani had a firm hold on a young side who led United through the semi-finals, a stage they’d previously wobbled without him.

By combining Cavani’s experience with other executives like Fernandes and Pogba, United now has an ideal mix of players and a balanced squad that is still youth focused but has the experience they need.

AS Roma v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League semi-finals: Leg Leg(Photo by Ash Donelon / Manchester United via Getty Images)

Manchester United’s 2021 Europa League campaign to date

  1. against Real Sociedad

    First leg: 4-0 win: Fernandes (2), Rashford, James
    2nd leg: 0-0

  2. against AC Milan

    1st leg: 1-1: Amad
    Second leg: 1-0 win: Pogba

  3. against Granada

    First leg: 2-0 win: Rashford, Fernandes
    Second leg: 2-0 win: Cavani, OG

  4. against Roma

    First leg: 6-2 win: Fernandes (2), Cavani (2), Pogba, Greenwood
    2nd leg: 2-3 loss: Cavani (2)

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