LONDON • Manchester United’s early Champions League exit means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position is back under scrutiny ahead of Manchester City’s visit to Old Trafford today.
This will be a Premier League derby neither side can afford to lose. A fourth defeat in six top-flight games at home this season could see the Red Devils finish the weekend eight points off the joint-leaders, Tottenham and Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand.
City (18), who are a point behind the hosts and seventh, lost three of their four meetings last season, including twice in the league.
But Solskjaer is under greater pressure after his side dropped back into the Europa League in midweek, although City boss Pep Guardiola yesterday expressed his confidence that the United board know the Norwegian’s value.
“It’s important to know the value of Solskjaer, there’s no doubt about this,” said Guardiola.
“I don’t have to give him support because he’s strong enough and knows how this job works… when we win we’re a genius, when we lose we have to be sacked.”
However, Solskjaer is expecting his side to show a response against City today, even though he claimed his players have made progress from last term.
“I think every player is the same. Any player that plays football should be disappointed when you lose a game,” he said at his virtual pre-match press conference yesterday.
“They want to bounce back and win the next one. We’ve handled setbacks well, during games and before the next game. You need to analyse what went wrong.
“It’s important not to press the panic button because you can’t win every game. Some games will hurt more than others and have more consequences than others.
“We’re facing the reality of no Champions League and we move on. We need to get back into the Champions League by improving.”
Manchester derby, probably the best game you can ask for after such a disappointment…
He’s strong enough and knows how this job works… when we win, we’re a genius, when we lose, we have to be sacked.
Insisting that his players were still moving in the right direction despite a stop-start campaign, the Norwegian added: ” I feel we’re getting better and better and looking more like a United team that I want, with fast attackers, dynamic.
“We’ve got good players and individual quality that can create magic out of nothing. That’s always been at United but we can see more of the penetration and consistency everyone says we don’t have.
“We’ve won our last four in the league which has become a good run and hopefully, that continues.
“It was a tight (Champions League) group decided by fine margins, you can see that in most games… Manchester derby, probably the best game you can ask for after such a disappointment because it does stick in your system.”
United will welcome back Anthony Martial after he missed the RB Leipzig trip with a knock, while Edinson Cavani, another midweek absentee, is also likely to return.
With practically a full squad from which to pick, Solskjaer has some selection issues to solve, like David de Gea, who came in for some fierce criticism in Germany.
Pundit and ex-United midfielder Paul Scholes felt that the ‘keeper “bottled it” during the 3-2 loss that sealed their Champions League fate, renewing calls for Dean Henderson to take replace him.
Backing the Spain No. 1, Solskjaer said: “David’s a top goalkeeper and rightly on the lists of best goalkeepers in Europe, he’s handled criticism and setbacks before, he’s a man that we really rely on and hopefully, he’s not affected by criticism and I don’t think he will be.”
MAN UNITED V MAN CITY
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