When Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer manager on 2 January, the Norwegian was tasked with salvaging the Bluebirds' inaugural English Premier League season and keeping the Welsh side above the relegation zone.
“It is a fantastic challenge,” Solskjaer said at the time. “Cardiff are ready to take the next step up. I hope I can help them."
Nearly a month into his new role now, Solskjaer has yet to earn his first Premier League victory, but the Bluebirds have picked up two impressive FA Cup wins under the tutelage of the baby-faced assassin.
Before Solskjaer returns to Old Trafford for the first time as a manager after an illustrious 11-year career with Manchester United on Tuesday, FIFA.com reviews his time in charge at Cardiff City and what he can expect when he squares off against David Moyes and Co.
January has been a tale of two competitions for Solskjaer and Cardiff, with the Premier League proving troubling and the FA Cup a glimmer of hope in an otherwise underwhelming season so far for the Bluebirds. A hard-fought 2-1 FA Cup victory over Newcastle United at St James’ Park on 4 January was an encouraging start for Solskjaer, but a 2-0 loss to West Ham United a week later brought the Bluebirds back down to Earth in Solskjaer’s only match at Cardiff City Stadium so far.
Cardiff then travelled to the Etihad to take on Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City where they were hopeful to repeat their fortunes after taking the Citizens down 3-2 in triumphant fashion at home in August, but City were too strong and saw off Solskjaer’s side 4-2, leaving the new manager without a win in the Premier League since taking over from Malky Mackay.
And with another tough test ahead against United, Solskjaer has his work cut out for him to get Cardiff out of the bottom spot on the table by month’s end. However, another gritty FA Cup victory at the weekend, this time a 1-0 win at Bolton Wanderers to send the Bluebirds into the fifth round will only help their confidence when they take on the Red Devils.
A hero’s homecoming
Having scored the winning goal for Manchester United against Bayern Munich in the final seconds to claim the 1999 UEFA Champions League, Solskjaer is considered a legend among the Old Trafford faithful and is expected to receive a hero’s welcome tomorrow. Although he acknowledged the special circumstances of his return to the Theatre of Dreams, Solskjaer hasn’t lost focus on the importance of three points.
"(Our) position is the worst it can be in the Premier League but then again it is six points up to tenth so we hope to get our FA Cup form into the league games now," Solskjaer explained ahead of the meeting with United.
If it wasn’t already a difficult match-up for Solskjaer’s side, Juan Mata’s potential debut for United will only complicate matters for the Bluebirds, though the Cardiff manager remained unfazed: “We can't say that we are going to win, we are going to go there and put a performance on that we will be proud of, come back home with no regrets.
“You go out there to perform on the pitch and, as long as you give it your all, you can come back from places like this with pride."
Cardiff may have an uphill battle during the second half of their Premier League season to stave off relegation, but it is clear Solksjaer’s determination and focus has the Bluebirds flying in the right direction.