BURNLEY, England -- Manchester United ended 2019 with a 2-0 Premier League win over Burnley and in doing so ensured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will begin the most important 12 months of his managerial career on a high.
Victory at Turf Moor means United will start the new year within touching distance of the top four, but it is how 2020 unfolds that will tell you everything you need to know about Solskjaer and whether he is the right man for the hot seat at Old Trafford. The jury is still out.
This is a team capable of beating Tottenham and Manchester City and losing to Watford. Back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Burnley is an encouraging way to end the year, but the supporters travelling to Arsenal in four days' time will do so still not knowing what to expect. This is where United are, but if the ultimate goal is to challenge for the title and the Champions League, they cannot continue to be here.
In 12 months, most of the lingering questions should have been answered. Is Solskjaer a good manager who has been hampered by a thin squad? Or is it the Norwegian, rather than his players, who lacks the tools?
By December 2020, he will have had the benefit of another summer transfer window. The gaps in the squad -- most notably in midfield and up front -- should have been filled and those not up to scratch should have gone.
This is a team in transition, but Solskjaer and the club cannot hide behind that indefinitely. Talk of visions and plans has been welcomed after six and a half years of shambolic recruitment, but it is only tangible results that keep wolves from the door. There need to be considerable strides taken in the next year.
Against Burnley, there was enough to suggest it is possible.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford scored again. The defence, anchored by £85 million Harry Maguire, kept a clean sheet for the first time in 15 league games. Brandon Williams, 19, was good and so was Andreas Pereira. David De Gea showed he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world with a terrific late save to deny Phil Bardsley an equaliser.
Even in a state of flux, United were too good for Sean Dyche's side.
"We want to keep the momentum going," said Solskjaer afterward. "Two wins now and good response after the disappointing game against Watford. We have not lost a game straight after we have lost another one, so happy with that. Good response from the players, they are learning.
"We're getting better and improving. We've had too many draws early on and it has put us in position we're in. We've only lost once each month, and if you go a month between every time you lose, it's not bad for a team that's learning. Tonight was a big step forward anyway."
United had to wait until the final minutes of the first half to score, but it was only by sheer fortune that Burnley managed to hang on that long. Rashford drilled a free kick at Nick Pope from 40 yards before hitting the base of the post with a whipped shot from inside the penalty area.
Martial thought he had done enough to open the scoring only for his shot to be cleared off the line by Bardsley. Williams' cross from the left then evaded everyone when it needed only a touch into the net.
A minute before the break and Burnley reached breaking point. Pereira's ferocious pressing caught Charlie Taylor off guard and the Brazilian rolled a beautifully weighted pass toward Martial, who scored his 10th of the season.
Pereira has taken more than his fair share of criticism from some United fans this season, but he has been impressive against Colchester and Newcastle this month, and he was again here. He looks far more comfortable as the No. 10 with the insurance of two others behind him.
It is easy to forget he is still only 23 and is yet to make 50 Premier League appearances. He has work to do to show that he is entirely at home at this level, but the flashes of brilliance are becoming more and more frequent.
The scoreline would have been more comprehensive had Martial taken two second-half chances, both laid on by Pereira. And only De Gea's save from Bardsley and Rashford's 16th goal in his past 19 appearances for club and country, with the last kick of the game, made the result safe.
It is this type of performance, replicated again and again, home and away, against big teams and small, that will keep Solskjaer safe in 2020. He is facing a crucial year but it will, at least, start with hope.