Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Solskjaer faces ‘great challenge’ to resurrect Man United

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stabilized Manchester United during a terribly turbulent time when he took over as interim manager back in December, but the Norwegian couldn’t will the Red Devils to a top-four finish after being named Jose Mourinho’s permanent replacement in March.

[ MORE: Man United can’t hold early lead, draw Huddersfield (video) ]

Now, with a summer full of uncertainty looming, Solskjaer is fully aware of the “great challenge” ahead of him: rebuilding a first-team squad that hasn’t challenged for the Premier League title since winning it in Sir Alex Ferguson‘s final season. The year was 2013.

To make a tall task even taller, Solskjaer and chief executive will have to maneuver through the transfer market without the benefit of Champions League revenue after Man United were eliminated from top-four contention upon throwing away an early lead and drawing already-relegated Huddersfield Town on Sunday — quotes from the BBC:

“We are where we are for a reason. Over a long season we haven’t been good enough to challenge for the Champions League places. It’s not come as a surprise but we hoped to show a better performance today.”

“We haven’t taken enough points, won enough games, scored enough goals — its always difficult when you lose your manager halfway through the season. It’s caught up with us a little bit.

“It shows us where we are. We’re not living in fantasy land, thinking we can catch the top two. We’re far away, but we shouldn’t be speaking about being far off the top-four at Manchester United.

“We’re many levels [behind] at the moment, that’s the size of the challenge, it’s a great challenge for us but I’m sure we’ll make it.”

Defender Ashley Young, who’s won four major trophies since joining the club in 2011, longs for the days of competing for titles and winning trophies.

“I’m not sure what it is, its a number of things. It’s a disappointment now we can’t make the top-four. We must go away and be ready to go again.

“We haven’t been playing the way we should, that’s why we are where we are in the league table. It’s a massive blow for a club like Manchester United. It’s not what we want to be talking about, fighting for top-four, we want trophies and titles.

“It’s been tough, we haven’t been fighting for titles and it’s a massive disappointment. We must come back next season ready to win.”

Solskjaer confirms De Gea will start for Man United against Huddersfield

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Ole Gunnar Solakjaer has confirmed that under-fire goalkeeper David De Gea will keep his place as Manchester United hosts Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The Spaniard has struggled over the past few weeks, with errors leading to goals that open fresh wounds from this past summer’s World Cup, where De Gea also performed poorly. Most recently, De Gea fumbled a deep effort from N'Golo Kante on Sunday against Chelsea that led to Marcos Alonso‘s 43rd minute equalizer in the eventual 1-1 draw with Chelsea. De Gea was seen shaking his head after the mistake, leading some to speculate the mistakes could be having an effect on his mentality, but the Manchester United boss hoped to shoot that down.

“Of course we do [trust De Gea], he’s been fantastic this season,” Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference after confirming he will start. “Towards the end now he’s been in the headlines maybe for the wrong reasons, but as I’ve said so many times he’s got to deal with that. The goalkeeping department, they’re a fantastic group together with [goalkeeping coach] Emilio [Alvarez] and Sergio [Romero] and Lee [Grant] and David, they’ve been such a tight knitted group so they’ve experienced better times obviously but he’s ready for Sunday.”

Solskjaer did conveniently mention that Sergio Romero, de Gea’s backup, has a knee injury, leaving options quite limited should they decide the Spaniard needed some time on the sidelines. The only other goalkeeper in the squad is 36-year-old Lee Grant who joined from Stoke City in the summer. 20-year-old Paul Woolston is the starter for the U-23 squad, having signed in November as a free agent.

The boss was asked whether Romero would have started if he was fit, but dodged the question, sayin, “Ifs and buts and hypothetical questions. Sergio knows how highly I rate him.”

De Gea’s struggles have mounted for some time, with errors and poor moments in big games of late. He was beaten twice at his near post in the derby against Manchester City a week ago, with Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane both scoring on shots De Gea would like to have back. He saw a Lionel Messi shot squirt right under his outstretched body as Barcelona trounced the Red Devils 3-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal the week before that.

Despite the mistakes, De Gea has been a monstrous figure in goal for Manchester United for nearly the past decade. Since joining in 2011, he has made at least 28 Premier League appearances in every single season, and has hit the 34-game mark in each of the past six seasons. The 28-year-old has played every minute of the league campaign this season, but his seven clean sheets are by far the lowest of his Red Devils career, with at least 11 clean sheets in every season since moving to Old Trafford.

Solskjaer, Mata come to De Gea’s defense after costly error

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Even after David de Gea’s costly mistake robbed Manchester United of a pair of sorely needed points in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, the Spanish net-minder remains comfortably in the black over his last few seasons, at least in the minds of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and midfielder Juan Mata.

[ MORE: Three things learned: Man United v. Chelsea ]

If anyone has earned himself a bit of leeway should he turn in a bad performance, or three, it’s De Gea. As recently as last season, it was De Gea who, at times singlehandedly, kept Man United in games and willed them to positive results in the face of the atrocious defending taking place in front of him. Mata hasn’t forgotten that — quotes from the BBC:

You know David is unquestionable for me. His level has been fantastic for this club, he has been the best player over the last years and the points he has saved us have been incredible.

“The important thing is how he reacts, I have 100 percent confidence in him and we all have, today he is obviously not happy, we are not happy, but we will return to training with the right attitude. For me his level is unquestionable.

“He knows I’m here for him and what I can do is give him an honest consideration of situation, he is disappointed over his situation but he is one of best in the world. Everyone makes mistakes but he’s strong mentally and he will save many goals in the next games. He has been the best for us and he had the team’s full confidence.”

Three points would have seen United leapfrog Arsenal for fifth and draw level with the Blues for fourth, though they would have remained behind on goal differential.

Still, Solskjaer knows the level at which De Gea has performed for the last half-decade or so, so the idea of dropping him over Sunday’s mistake warranted a very short, direct answer after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“No. David has been a fantastic keeper at this club, his reaction after City was good and I was confident in him. He knows he could do better with their goal but it’s one of those things again.”

“Every single player has good and not so good moments. He’s one of the best and obviously he’s disappointed with their goal. He has been the best player for this club, he has my full support and the club’s full support and everyone who loves the club should give him their support. We must be with him, he has our full confidence, he’s my friend and one of best goalkeepers in the world.”

Solskjaer: Man City “had too much for” Manchester United

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Manchester United has spent a lot of money on players, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says the talent on show at Old Trafford is nothing compared to rivals Manchester City.

What else could he say after his rivals outclassed him 2-0 on Wednesday, a club which wasn’t even in the same league — physically and metaphorically — for half of his tenure as a player for Manchester United?

[ MORE: Manchester Derby recap | 4 things ]

“They had too much for us,” Solskjaer said after the loss. “They are the best team in the country, they have set the standard in the last two seasons and I don’t know how many points they’ve taken. What Pep Guardiola has done with his players is remarkable and we are so close to it in the vicinity so we feel it every day.”

This was a different loss than the lackluster 4-0 blowout at the hands of Everton on Sunday, as United definitely worked hard but had little to offer in attack aside from a few choice Paul Pogba long balls and some wayward finishing from an industrious Jesse Lingard.

“There is a difference in quality,” Solskjaer said in another interview. “That is why they are top and we are where we are. Living in Manchester we cannot be happy with that. It is up to us to close that gap and overtake them.”

[ MORE: Pep reacts | Sane with NBCSN crew ]

We bet every one those words felt like broken glass climbing out of Solskjaer’s throat.

It’s going to take a squad revolution and then time to settle into a new reality. United is probably at least another full season from contending with City, even given last season’s runner-up finish.

And that has to be weird for a manager who was used to seeing the noisy neighbors stationed in the Championship. Solskjaer knows he has a lot of work to do at Old Trafford. Will his bosses let him do it?

Four things from the Manchester Derby

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Three more wins.

That’s all Manchester City needs to guarantee a second-straight Premier League title under Pep Guardiola following a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United on Wednesday at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-2 Man City ]

How did City get there? A gritty first half stepped aside for a clear gulf in class.

That pregame fouling banter was more than a subplot

On Tuesday, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed that City is a kicking foul machine to limit counter attacks and Pep Guardiola responded by, and I’m paraphrasing, “We aren’t, but let’s talk after the game, bruh.”

Well, City snapped into those tackles with a little more vigor on Wednesday, willing to take yellow cards in exchange for some angry staredowns with United and its bench.

Sometimes the Manchester Derby doesn’t get the true derby vibe because neither side is known for snapping into the other with tackles, but Vincent Kompany‘s NHL-style open-ice hit to earn a first half yellow served notice that the physical play wasn’t going away.

Gundogan steps up at both ends, helps Bernardo open scoring

German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was not at his best when City fell to Spurs in the UEFA Champions League, but he was versatile and vigorous on Wednesday at Old Trafford.

Neither David De Gea nor Luke Shaw covered themselves in glory on Bernardo Silva‘s opener, but Gundogan cued it up with a tougher-than-it-looks pass to the right side of the 18.

And with key piece Fernandinho on the bench with injury, Gundogan put forth a strong performance as a combination holding/defensive midfielder.

Zinchenko as Pep’s safer Sane

Follow me here: Twenty-two year old Oleksandr Zinchenko is not the elite-level threat presented by an in-form Leroy Sane, but he doesn’t have to be when Pep Guardiola wants to play it a little safe.

Sane attacking from the left was the key to Guardiola’s 2017-18 masterpiece, but the winger has been a less important piece given the MVP-level season of Raheem Sterling.

A capable center midfielder turned left back, what Zinchenko gives Guardiola is a relentless engine up-and-down the left who can dribble to start plays and pass as well as most on the pitch.

Just look at the matches when Zinchenko has not been available to Guardiola and witness the struggles at left back. The Ukrainian was linked with a move away from the Etihad before the season, but it seems more likely he’ll be choice A for Pep moving forward.

Pogba not enough, Rashford still stuck in rut

Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are remarkable talents, but neither delivered on Wednesday relative to ability.

Pogba hit a delightful pass that could’ve been an assist if Jesse Lingard has his legs correct, and also won a few tasty free kicks, but was not the world-class talent we’ve seen so many times.

And Rashford will be a fine forward in the Premier League for a long time, but was again not the consistent force we’ve seen Romelu Lukaku be more often. Rashford has to get that experience to get there, but this was a big spot for him and he was not able to deliver the goods.

Extra things

— Raheem Sterling’s assist on the Leroy Sane insurance goal is a perfect illustration of how much he’s grown as a player. He saw the pass before we saw it on television, and still waiting that extra moment to give Sane time and the perfect weight. He’s my Player of the Year if City wins the title (Otherwise, Virgil Van Dijk).

— Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a good tactical move out of halftime to harry Man City in possession near the halfway line, but never found an answer to the introduction of Sane and Gundogan’s more than capable answer to Fernandinho’s injury.

— Jesse Lingard could’ve scored a handful of goals but his technical skills didn’t reward his utility and intelligence. He’ll sleep poorly tonight.