LONDON: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enjoyed a charmed life as interim Manchester United manager but Barcelona’s visit to Old Trafford on Wednesday will show him the scale of the task he faces as the new full-time boss.
The Norwegian was rewarded with a three-year deal after dramatically reviving United’s fortunes since taking caretaker charge in December, lifting them back into contention for a top-four place and transforming the mood at the club.
The highlight of his reign so far was a dramatic 3-1 away victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 in the Champions League, which enabled United to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat to reach the quarter-finals on away goals.
Solskjaer has given his creative players licence to attack, with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford let off the leash to devastating effect.
But some of the gloss has come off in recent weeks, with three defeats in four matches badly denting United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League and dumping them out of the FA Cup.
Solskjaer, who famously scored the winning goal for United against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona, was upbeat after drawing the Spanish league leaders in the quarter-finals last month, before he was confirmed as the new long-term boss.
“We want these games against the biggest clubs and the biggest teams. We had the final against them in 2009 and 2011 (both of which Barca won) and the semi-final in 2008 when Scholesy (Paul Scholes) scored,” Solskjaer said.
“It’s these games our fans and this club crave. We are looking forward to this one.”
Worryingly for Solskjaer, though, some of United’s familiar failings under Jose Mourinho have returned to haunt them in the weeks since the draw was made.