(CNN)Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced his first real test as Manchester United’s caretaker manager against a top four English Premier League side on Sunday and passed it with flying colors after coming away from Wembley Stadium with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur.
Marcus Rashford’s first-half goal proved the difference between the two sides, with goalkeeper David de Gea producing a man-of-the-match performance — he made 11 saves — to secure United’s sixth consecutive win under Solskjaer.
“He’s brought happiness,” De Gea told Sky Sports as he reflected on the impact Solskjaer has had. “This is the real Manchester United.
“We won the game against a top team — we defended well and we got the points.”
Appointed caretaker boss after the club fired Jose Mourinho in December, Solskjaer had overseen his team win five successive games, scoring 16 goals in the process, ahead of Sunday’s encounter.
Impressive as that run has been those five victories had come against three teams battling relegation — Huddersfield, Cardiff and Newcastle — mid-table Bournemouth and Championship Reading, who United played in the FA Cup third round.
Sunday’s match was an altogether tougher assignment against a team third in the league and that had beaten United 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
There was another sub-plot to this match — could Solskjaer outwit Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, who is widely seen as a leading candidate to become the permanent United boss.
Solskjaer had scoffed at that notion ahead of Sunday’s game — “It should always be about the players, because it’s not about me. It’s not about him” — but what is clear is that the Norwegian has instilled a sense of freedom in his players that was missing under Mourinho.
In particular, the shackles are off for players like Antony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Rashford and Paul Pogba, who broke forward at every opportunity with speed.
Late in the first half, three of that quartet — Lingard, Pogba and Rashford — wonderfully combined to give United the lead.
Lingard deftly touched the ball to Pogba, who swept a curling pass into space behind the Tottenham defense allowing Rashford to run clear and angle a shot past Hugo Lloris as the England international scored his fourth goal in five league games since Solskjaer’s arrival.
“This was the hardest we have had to work for a result,” Rashford told Sky Sports.
While Tottenham were involved in Carabao Cup semifinal on Tuesday, Solskjaer had prepared for the trip to Wembley by taking his squad for a warm-weather training camp in Dubai.
The home side also lost Moussa Sissiko to injury in the first half and arguably Spurs struggled to match United’s vim in those opening 45 minutes.
At the start of the second half, Spurs stepped things up and De Gea did well to save from Harry Kane and twice from Dele Alli.
Toby Alderweireld was next to test De Gea’s reflexes, the United keeper showing split-second reactions to block the Tottenham defender’s effort.
Soon after De Gea threw himself to his left to turn away an Alli shot as the Spanish international continued to almost single-handedly defy Spurs.
The United keeper is adept at using every part of his body to protect his goal and late on he cleared another Kane effort with his feet.
The win moved United on to 41 points, though Solskjaer still has his work cut out to qualify for next season’s Champions League via the Premier League, with fourth-place Chelsea on 47 points.
Defeat for Spurs left Pochettino’s team nine points behind league leaders Liverpool.
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