AFTER 14-MATCH UNBEATEN STREAK, MAN UNITED ARE IN MOOD FOR BATTLE FOR CHAMPIONS’ LEAGUE SPOT

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is happy his team is doing well and are on a 14-match unbeaten run in all competitions, but he is also cautiously targeting a top-four finish in the Premier League because of the tough competition this season.

The Red Devils lie sixth on 49 points, three behind Wolverhampton Wanderers but with a game in hand. They are five points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea with seven games left, and are only six points ahead of ninth-placed Arsenal.

As it stands, finishing the campaign in fifth could also be enough for a Champions League spot as Manchester City – who are second – await their appeal against their two-season European ban for flouting Financial Fair Play rules.

Speaking ahead of today’s trip to Brighton, Solskjaer believes his players are finally translating his ideas onto the pitch as they look to finish the season strongly.

He said: “The players are working really hard and want to do as well as they can. As a team we’re trying to implement our ideas. We talk about 14 games (unbeaten) and we go into the next game knowing you’ve won the previous game. It’s a good place to be in.”

The Norwegian saw his side reach the last four of the FA Cup by beating Norwich 2-1 last Saturday and knows finishing in the top four of the league will be another tough task.

“I think there are many teams for that battle for third and fourth, Leicester, Chelsea, us, Wolves doing really well, Tottenham, Arsenal and Sheffield United wanna put a run together and put a challenge in there,” the 47-year-old said.

“I think every year you’re in the Champions League is a great experience. For the players it’s a step forward, for us it’s what we’re striving to do winning trophies and we need to focus on one game at a time.”

United have yet to beat Brighton away in the Premier League, losing to the Seagulls twice in 2018 at the Amex Stadium.

“They’re a good footballing side, they play football and make it hard for you,” Solskjaer said of today’s opponents, who lie in 15th.

Graham Potter’s men have four points from two matches since the season restarted, beating Arsenal 2-1 and grinding out a 0-0 draw against third-placed Leicester last Tuesday.

“You want to challenge yourself against the best, like we have done in our last two matches, and now we have another opportunity to play well again,” midfielder Leandro Trossard told Brighton’s website.

United will have a fully fit squad after resting key players against Norwich. Brighton, meanwhile, await news on whether centre-back Adam Webster will be fit after he was forced off against Leicester.

Solskjaer also said that he is not concerned that forward Marcus Rashford, who was able to recover from a back injury during the coronavirus shutdown, is yet to add to his 19-goal haul this season.

“I think he’s looked sharp,” he said. “He came on and looked sharp again against Norwich. Against Sheffield United he missed one or two chances but the goals he created (two assists in the 3-0 win) I think is what we’re focusing on. He’ll definitely score a goal soon.”

Off the pitch, Solskjaer is bracing himself for the loss of teenage midfielder Angel Gomes, whose United contract expires today.

The highly rated 19-year-old came through the academy and made his debut aged 16 in May 2017, becoming the youngest player since Duncan Edwards in the 1950s to feature for the first team.

But Gomes has only made 10 first-team appearances and contract talks hit a roadblock, with Solskjaer now expecting the midfielder to leave when his contract runs out.

Asked at his press conference if Gomes would be staying, the United boss said: “I’ve got no news, nothing, so it doesn’t look like it. To be honest, it seems like they haven’t managed to agree (a deal).”

-AFP