Starting from tonight, the remaining games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester key are key to Manchester United’s Europe ambitions
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said that his Manchester United side are “getting closer” to the standards demanded at Old Trafford as they focus on reaching the Champions League.
United conceded a stoppage-time goal against Southampton on Monday to draw 2-2, ending a run of four straight Premier League wins but they are still unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions.
The result left the Red Devils in fifth place in the table on 59 points – four behind third-placed Chelsea who have played a game more – but they are assured of a top-four finish if they win their remaining games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and fellow Champions League hopefuls Leicester.
Solskjaer said his message to his players ahead of today’s trip to Selhurst Park was to keep on doing what they had been doing and “trust yourselves”.
“You’re at a club where it always boils down to the last couple of weeks, or two or three games in the season anyway,” he said at his pre-match press conference yesterday.
“We’ve done fantastic since we restarted. We started with the draw against Tottenham of course but then had a great run. That little bit of a setback is a test for mentalities.”
Asked if this was the best United team since former manager Alex Ferguson’s league title winners in 2013, Solskjaer said: “I don’t think that’s my job to say… but of course we’ve played some good football, some enjoyable football.
“Now it is about consistency. We know we’re privileged to play for this great club and there’s a certain expectation on how we should play football and we’re getting closer and closer to that type of team.”
The United boss also said he will not rest key players for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, with his focus solely on their clash against Palace.
“The team selection for Thursday is based on Thursday, not Sunday. Sunday is irrelevant, it does not come into my head at all,” he said.
United could be short on defensive options, with left-backs Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams racing against time to be fit.
Shaw twisted his ankle against former employers Southampton, while his replacement Williams suffered a head injury after colliding with Kyle Walker-Peters.
“Luke has got a swollen ankle, I’ll give him as much time as possible to recover, it was a twisted ankle.
“Brandon cut up his eye. I don’t really know, neither of them trained yesterday,” Solskjaer said.
Forward Anthony Martial is in the midst of a purple patch, scoring five goals in six league games since the season’s restart and Solskjaer was delighted with the Frenchman’s development.
“He’s definitely improving and enjoying his football, he’s stepped it up this season as an individual and more as a team player, and physically,” he said.
“I remember there were talks about our forwards last season being the least active and there were stats flying around but Anthony is working really hard for the team and he is a quality finisher.”
Crystal Palace are on a five-game losing streak, having scored just two goals and conceded 13.
Jeffrey Schlupp, James Tomkins and Gary Cahill are out injured, while Christian Benteke is suspended following his red card in the 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS