Man United cannot go gung-ho with Champions League spot on the line

Manchester United cannot go gung-ho given that a Champions League spot is on the line as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men gear up for Manchester City clash

  • Manchester United lost 3-1 to Manchester City at Old Trafford back in January
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says players were guilty of losing composure that night
  • Solskjaer says his side have to be wary of leaving spaces open for City to attack 

There was mock desperation in the question and it brought a laugh from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Does he think the 182nd Manchester derby will be a classic? ‘Please say the word classic!’ urged the reporter, much to Solskjaer’s amusement. The Manchester United manager knows how it works and did his best to oblige.

‘Let’s hope it’s a 4-3 like we’ve seen before,’ he said with a nod. ‘There have been many classics and we’ll do what we can to make it a classic.’ It is not often that the Manchester derby needs ramping up, but the build-up to tomorrow’s meeting at Old Trafford feels flat.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hoping for a high-scoring affair in the Manchester derby on Sunday

Manchester City look secure in second place in the Premier League and their priorities now lie with the Champions League and FA Cup after retaining the Carabao Cup last weekend.

The stakes are higher for United who are 15 points behind and locked in a battle to finish in the top four, though aware that fifth may also be rewarded with a Champions League place if City are banned from Europe.

But the fourth Manchester derby of the season feels like the least important. The rivals are so familiar with one another that Solskjaer says he hasn’t even bothered showing his players videos of City.

The previous three matches have ended in victory for the away team. United won 2-1 at the Etihad in the league in December and then 1-0 there in the Carabao Cup semi-final in January, but that wasn’t enough to overturn a 3-1 win for City at Old Trafford in the first leg.

The previous three games between Man City and Man United have ended in an away win

That includes United’s 3-1 loss to City at Old Trafford in January in the Carabao Cup semi-final

‘Our heads went for a spell there,’ recalled Solskjaer. ‘We’ve got to control our emotions. We’ve learned so that’s an experience we’ll bring into this game. When you’re at home and you have to open up against a team like Man City they will exploit that if you’re not 100 per cent.’

Pep Guardiola looked suitably underwhelmed by the occasion.

He acknowledged ‘the situation is a bit different’ this time and seemed to suggest City will use it to sharpen themselves up for the second leg of their Champions League tie with Real Madrid and the FA Cup quarter-final at Newcastle the following week. ‘We look to improve, to finish second, not to win the title,’ said Guardiola. ‘For them, it’s more important in qualifying for the Champions League. We have to prepare for two finals — Madrid and Newcastle.’

Guardiola believes United are in their ‘best moment’ under Solskjaer after a run of nine games unbeaten and seven clean sheets as they bid for a first league double over City since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

Harry Maguire missed United’s FA Cup win over Derby on Thursday with a twisted ankle but is expected to be fit. Kevin De Bruyne missed City’s FA Cup win at Sheffield Wednesday 24 hours earlier and is unlikely to be risked.

Solskjaer is unhappy that City have been given an extra day to prepare. ‘It’s that help we get from the FA again, that extra 24 hours that they’ve had,’ he said.

‘I cannot believe there’s a derby on Sunday and we’ve got to play Thursday night. What’s the point in that? That doesn’t level the playing field.

Solskjaer is also unhappy that City have been given an extra day to prepare for the match

‘It was the same when we beat them last time, to be fair,’ he added, recalling the first league game at the Etihad. ‘Those 24 hours are important so we’ve got to be good at recovering.’

Asked if he has complained, Solskjaer replied: ‘No, I’ve not. I don’t think we can, so we’ve not got any help before this one.’

‘Sometimes it happens,’ responded Guardiola wearily.

That was the nearest we were going to get to a controversy.


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