Manchester United face their city rivals Manchester City in the first derby of the season at Old Trafford on Saturday. Following United’s exit from the Champions League in midweek manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be expecting his side to start positively and take the game to City.
Solskjaer spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s game and addressed his team’s exit from the Champions League, the latest injury news and how he wants his side to attack the game against City.
Champions League exit
United exited the Champions League on Tuesday evening despite only requiring a point from their last two group games. It means that Solskjaer’s side will play in the Europa League knockout rounds in the new year but the United manager believes the experience of a tough group in Europe’s premier club competition was beneficial for his team.
“It’s been a step up from last season with the Europa League,” Solskjaer said. “Those six games have been great in testing levels because we played against two top teams - one was in the final and one in the semi-final last season - we’ve learnt any small mistake will get punished.
“We were very close to going through in a very good group, that shows me a team moving forward from drawing to Colchester and barely beating Rochdale. We struggled to beat Astana and Partizan [Belgrade] convincingly, we’ve taken steps from last year. We still have a little bit of a way to go to compete and win the Champions League but that’s our win to win trophies and be contenders.”
Reaction to setbacks
Nevertheless, not securing qualification was a bitter blow having seemingly put in the hard yards earlier in the group-stage. This was arguably United’s greatest set-back since Solskjaer took charge of the team almost two years ago.
“I think every player is the same. Any player that plays football should be disappointed when you lose a game. They want to bounce back and win the next one. We’ve handled set backs well, during games and before the next game. You need to analyse what went wrong,” Solskjaer added.
“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.”
Once again against RB Leipzig in the week, it was a weak defence that allowed the German side to gain a strong foothold in the game. The third goal was poor judgement by both Harry Maguire and David De Gea. But Solskjaer believes that his defence is not as bad as people make it out to be.
“There’s load of things we can do better, defend better from the front, but we’ve scored quite a few goals in the last 10 games and that’s the nature of Manchester United: many, many goals. We want to defend maybe higher up, we got pegged back during midweek and they scored from crosses, which was disappointing.
“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 the criticism and I don’t think he will be. Every goal a goalkeeper concedes they’ll be disappointed with.”
United have won three of their last four meetings with City, including the 2-0 victory at Old Trafford which was the last match before lockdown. City themselves have not started the season as fluid as usual - picking up 18 points and scoring only 19 goals - United go into the derby ahead of City for only the second time in seven seasons.
“Start quickly is one thing but start good and you can start quickly,” Solskjaer said of United’s approach. “We want to get on the front foot straightaway, goals impact games and when you get the first goal it’s easier. That’s something we want to get in this game, we’ve done well against City in the last few games. It’s a 90 minute game but we want to get a good start.”
On the injury front, the United manager confirmed that Anthony Martial will “definitely be involved” having missed the trips to Leipzig and West Ham United. However, Solskjaer couldn’t say whether Edinson Cavani will be available for the City game: “He’s been on the grass but I’ll make a decision later.”
United’s direction of travel
It has been a dramatic start to the season for United with their unpredictability spanning from half to half not least game to game. However, Solskjaer believes that he is seeing signs of a United team building in front of him.
“Yes, I feel we’re getting better and better and looking more like a United team that I want with fast attackers and being 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.”