Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has delivered a thinly-veiled dig at his predecessor Jose Mourinho in the build-up to Tuesday’s Premier League clash with Fulham.
A victory will guarantee United finish the season in second place but their league form has been largely based around a fine away record. The Red Devils are unbeaten on the road in the Premier League this season and have lost an away league game in 15 months. Six home defeats put paid to any realistic chance of challenging Manchester City for the title. Solskjaer says he is glad to have broken Man City and Liverpool’s monopoly on the top two.
However, the Norwegian boss was quick to point out it was not an “achievement”.
Whether or not he was intending to put down Mourinho or not is hard to say, but Mourinho has publicly made it clear that his second-placed finish with United was his biggest achievement.
The Portuguese coach guided United to the runners-up spot in the Premier League behind Man City in 2017-18. He was sacked the same year and the following January and said: “If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, ‘this guy is crazy.
“‘He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?’”
“I keep saying this because people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”
Solskjaer though is aiming higher and that can only be a title charge next season.
“The competition now is a lot harder than when I was a player. Three, four, maybe five teams that can challenge for the top two positions,” he said.
“For the last few years they have been taken by the same two teams and for us to go into them and divide them it’s good, it’s a good performance but we can’t say it’s an achievement, it’s not an achievement.
“We’ve taken steps as a team we’re not where we want to be, we know we have some deficiencies as a group there’s parts of the game that we need to improve on but I’ve felt we’ve made strides in most places and I’ve been very pleased with the players and I’ve got to say I’ve been impressed by them but we want to take the next step as well.”
The United boss is looking forward to welcoming back fans to Old Trafford despite admitting recent supporter protests have affected his players.
United will finally be able to play in front of a crowd for their final Premier League home game of the season on Tuesday, with relegated Fulham the visitors.
Despite preparing for 10,000 spectators, United officials will be concerned about the ongoing unrest aimed at the club’s owners.
Anti-Glazer protests saw a number of fans break onto the Old Trafford pitch, causing the match against Liverpool on May 2 to be postponed.
The rescheduled game saw Liverpool win 4-2 last Thursday, while 48 hours previously Leicester were also victorious at Old Trafford in a fixture which saw more pre-match protestations.
Solskjaer, though, is keen to have supporters back inside the stadium for legitimate reasons and has called for it to be a “positive day” for everyone involved with the club.
“We’ve been waiting for a long, long time to welcome the fans back,” he said.
“Of course the last couple of home games, especially the Liverpool ones with the protests… It’s never nice to see a club that is not united, fans with the team, so we’re hoping that Tuesday is going to be a positive day that we move together, that we play a good game of football.
“That’s my job to prepare the team to play well and that they enjoy the day because that’s important that we get back and enjoy being together.
“I think the mood in any club and the relationship between the team and the fans is vital to what happens on the pitch.
“The players are all human beings, we’re all human beings, and we will react to getting our supporters back in a positive way.
“They have always been giving us extra energy and hopefully the players will give the fans a reason to cheer and that’s what we have to focus on.”
Protests have affected United
Solskjaer also believes the recent displays in defeat to Leicester and Liverpool were impacted on by the protests.
“I just didn’t want to use it as an excuse because we lost two games but surely it’s a reason behind the performances,” he added when asked if the protests had affected his players.
“I’m not saying it didn’t affect them but I was impressed with how professional they were and how they went about it.
“There was none of them that complained and that’s one of the big things for me, we never complain we just look at what we can do and how could we maximise the situation.
“We tried to do that but we couldn’t get the results but the players have been good as gold. They’ve had a couple of days off and they’re refreshed and ready and now we prepare as normal for these last two games.”
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