Solskjaer's arrival at Man United has led to more goals by in-form forwards
Manchester United are not just winning games, they are doing so by scoring freely; the team that netted just 11 times in seven games before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho as manager has scored 17 goals in the six played since then.
But while once shot-shy forwards have been praised -- most often by their new boss -- issues remain. Poor form saw Romelu Lukaku lose his place in the team; injuries mean Alexis Sanchez has played only 27 minutes of the five league games on Solskjaer's watch; Jesse Lingard, who hit two in the Norwegian's managerial debut at Cardiff, has not scored since.
Therefore, this is not a finely tuned machine, but rather one that is gradually cranking back into action, with some parts performing better than others. Across the board, though, confidence is up.
Marcus Rashford has become the main striker, vindicating Solskjaer's faith by scoring in four of five league games having managed three in 14 and becoming deeply unhappy under Mourinho, when he wasn't used in his favoured central role.
Anthony Martial, meanwhile, has also started regularly and his mood is better than at the start of the season when he wanted to leave. His fellow Parisian Paul Pogba has scored four, set up four and been United's best player since Solskjaer took charge, which bodes well for the upcoming Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain.
Andy Cole, who spent six years at the club and was a teammate of Solskjaer, still lives in Manchester, watches every game and considers himself a United fan. As a scorer of 121 goals while at Old Trafford, he is well qualified to evaluate the current crop of strikers.
"Romelu has got to find his mojo again," Cole says of Lukaku. "He has come off the bench and scored two in two, but that mojo comes from confidence. I watched him this season under Jose and I could tell, as a former centre-forward myself, that he was low on confidence. The first thing which starts to go is your movement. Romelu wasn't moving.
"You stop making the runs because you stop believing in yourself. I've been in that position and I'd watch him making hand gestures about where he wanted the ball to go, but psychologically you don't really want the ball. It's all about confidence and when his returns he'll start scoring."
Cole added that the hardest thing for the Belgian international is that "the pressure is constant," unlike at his former club Everton.
"Rom is a young man who is still improving," Cole says. "If you look at his goals at Everton, he used strength, power and pace to run behind people. If he came to me for advice, I'd say to him, 'If getting the ball into your feet isn't your biggest strength, use your pace. Use it, even if you are coming short to receive the ball. You can play one touch and then move again instead of trying to get hold of the ball and fight your touch.' He'll be OK."
Lukaku has yet to start a league game under Solskjaer, but when he gets opportunities he must take them. In the meantime, his pain has led to Rashford's gain.
"Marcus is doing well and he has got to keep working on the things that got him into the team in the first place," Cole says. "He kept wanting the ball to his feet, but when he first got into the team it was because he used his blistering pace to get behind defenders. Centre-forwards now want the ball to their feet, but Marcus should mix his game up: Get the ball short but also spin in behind into the space behind defenders."
Cole admires Martial's style -- "He's a flair player who needs to have the opportunity to express himself -- whereas talk of Lingard reminds him of a conversation with his old manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
"He would say that [Jesse] is going to be like (former French international attacking midfielder) Jean Tigana," Cole says. "Jesse was a late developer who had many loans, but he's said himself that he plays better for England than for Manchester United. Maybe he was getting more freedom for England, but now under Ole Gunnar he's getting more of that. You have to play with freedom. Manchester United have always played with freedom and creativity."
Lingard played in a deep, central-attacking role in the win against Tottenham, a game that Sanchez missed as he works his way back to full fitness. He has yet to spark under Solskjaer, but the manager is a fan of the Chilean international, as is Cole.
"You never become a bad player overnight," Cole says. "When he left Arsenal for Man United, he joined a team which was totally different. You have to change as a player, which is difficult. His work ethic is the same, but while he has given the ball away too much, it has been because he's been trying things because he wanted to produce a pass or score goals.
"He will improve because everyone else has improved since Ole took over," Cole continues. "Alexis has got good pace and he never stops running or closing down. He's like a little kid with a new football who wants to show how good he is. He was like that at Arsenal where he scored goals."
A fit and productive Sanchez, along with the in-form Rashford, Pogba, Martial and Lingard, will make for a strike force to be feared. It has taken time, but the team is looking more like a top-class Manchester United side should.