“He’s never gone away. He’s been working hard on the training ground, and now he knows he’s a good player.”
– Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Daniel James
If Daniel James was wondering what he had to do to work his way into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans, he now has his answer.
After a long spell out of the starting lineup, the Welsh winger delivered a performance during the week that Solskjaer conceded made him impossible to drop.
It was evident in his celebration that the goal against Real Sociedad was a weight off his shoulders, and he went into Manchester United‘s clash with Newcastle looking to build on his newfound momentum.
What’s the best way to do that? Well, another goal would do, wouldn’t it?.
After months of seeming as though he would fade into the background at Old Trafford, James is once again showing the short of goalscoring form that made him an immediate favourite after his move from Swansea.
His goal against Newcastle, peeling off at the back post, anticipating the mistake from Jamal Lewis, and absolutely hammering the ball into the bottom corner, was his sixth goal this season for club and country.
It was his sixth goal in his last nine matches, and his sixth in 505 minutes of football. He has netted a goal for every 84 minutes he has played since November.
Critics of James’ game have labelled him something of a one-trick pony, and a player who only scores one type of goal: the type that utilises his pace to get away from a defender down the flank.
Solskjaer has hinted that he has been working hard to add more dimensions to his play, though, and if his impressive goalscoring numbers aren’t enough to convince you of that, then his overall performance against Newcastle should have.
Even before his goal he was seen getting into the right positions to score. You can see it in his movement off the ball ahead of Marcus Rashford‘s opening goal: rather than following the shot in, he pulls off into space in anticipation of a rebound, displaying an awareness that he didn’t appear to have in his locker just a few months ago.
When his goal did arrive it came from a similar situation. Lewis gets drawn in, James senses that Bruno Fernandes is about to nudge it past him, and there is no note of surprise in his body language when he takes a touch and calmly hammers the ball into the corner.
His recent improvement has perhaps flown under the radar at a time when United seem to be scoring goals for fun, but as the season ticks on, this is an aspect of James’ game that looks set to win them points.
They may have Rashford and Fernandes in the form of their respective lives, but another attacker with a nose for the back of the net could go a long way as they look to finish this season as strongly as possible.
James’ cheesy grin has been the prevailing image from United’s wins over Sociedad and Newcastle, and with no sign that the goals are about to dry up for the free-scoring Welshman, it’s a picture we may become very familiar with in the second half of the season.