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99 not out: How Solskjaer has survived longer as Manchester United coach than expected

Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty ImagesSunday will mark Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 100th Premier League game in charge of Manchester United, but how has he made it this far?

This might seem quite a cruel question to ask someone who is about to celebrate a century of matches at the helm of arguably domestic football’s most iconic badge.

But it is a query that has lingered over Solskjaer’s head ever since he took over United as interim boss back in 2018.

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Where it all began At the point of his arrival, the Red Devils were slumped in sixth place.

Jose Mourinho had left his mark on another European giant, this imprint one of pessimism and perpetual doom.

Solskjaer’s immediate task was to steady the ship, whilst the chain of command located a permanent replacement.

As their search got underway, the Norwegian went about steering the mighty vessel back on course.

Eight wins on the spin certainly altered the direction of United’s sails; no manager in the club’s history had claimed half a dozen league victories in a row before that.

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesSome might suggest that was beginners’ luck, or that the fixture schedule was kind.

Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth, Newcastle United, Reading, Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal is not the most menacing of line-ups.

But Solskjaer ploughed on regardless, going undefeated for a month between February and March.

One of his most iconic moments to date landed roughly in the middle of that period.

The famous 3-1 Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain will be engraved into the memory of United fans, young and old.

Photo by TF-Images/Getty ImagesNot long after that result, the former striker was given the job on a full-time basis; it appeared the treasure hunt had ended.

United did only finish sixth that term, yet the turnaround had been evident.

‘Ironic’: Matt Le Tissier reacts to comments from Liverpool and Manchester United camps Report: What Solskjaer told Leeds United and Leicester target 2 weeks ago But would the charm wear off going into his first complete campaign?

Second season syndrome Unfortunately, the campaign was almost incomplete due to the pandemic.

Yet, Solskjaer still managed to haul United up to third by the time the curtain closed in late July.

In 2019/20, his side finished with the second-fewest defeats and third-fewest goals conceded in the division.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty ImagesThose statistics simply don’t lie. Solskjaer had improved the team and the squad.

Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Aaron Wan-Bissaka arrived that season; all have become important cogs to the Manchester machine.

Oh, and he managed to overcome Pep Guardiola three times. Only three others have beaten the Spanish magician on more occasions.

Round Three 2020/21 brought an even greater assault on the top-flight summit.

Placed in second behind Manchester City, Solskjaer had once again proved his pedigree.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty ImagesGoing unsurpassed for an entire term away from home is an achievement only truly rivaled by Arsenal’s Invincibles.  

Losing the Europa League final to Villarreal was a sore one to take, and evidence there is still work to be done.

But there remains plenty of optimism swirling around Solskjaer’s United at the moment.

New, talented signings have continued to walk through the door.

Paul Pogba looks like the player everyone wanted him to be.

Luke Shaw is arguably the finest left-back in the country.

All of this is down to Solskjaer.

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