Monday, November 29, 2021

Manchester United reminded of the difference a year makes by starting crucial week against Burnley

As Manchester United prepare for a night which could see them move top of the Premier League table for the first time…

By admin , in Sprots , at January 12, 2021 Tags: , ,

As Manchester United prepare for a night which could see them move top of the Premier League table for the first time this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined not to get ahead of himself.

Every question about this budding title challenge has been met with the same answer over the past few weeks and it was repeated several times on Monday afternoon.

“As I’ve said,” the United manager would reiterate, “the league table doesn’t matter now but you pick up points and when you get to March and April, that’s where the league will be decided.”

Yet in the quieter moments before tonight’s late kick-off at Turf Moor, even if he refuses to look too far forward, Solskjaer may be tempted to look back at the last time his side played Burnley.

It is nearly a year since two unanswered goals by Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez secured Burnley’s first win at Old Trafford in 57 years and consigned United to their eighth league defeat of a season spiraling down the drain.

Solskjaer was six points off the Champions League places, thirty behind leaders and eventual champions Liverpool having played two more games, and under greater external pressure than at any other time of his tenure.

At his post-match press conference, back when such things were conducted in cramped rooms rather than over Zoom calls, there was a sense of blood in the water for the very first time.

Solskjaer looked tired and downcast, and he said he understood the frustrations of the supporters, even if their anger was directed at the Glazer family ownership and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward rather than him. “At the end, you do feel disillusioned because maybe they do,” he admitted.

But United were unequivocal in their backing of Solskjaer over the days that followed, as they always have been in such fraught and uncertain moments, and that show of faith could yet be repaid handsomely.

Rather than thirty points off the pace, United are level with leaders Liverpool. This time, they are the ones with the game in hand. Beat Burnley, then beat Jurgen Klopp’s side at Anfield on Sunday and they will be six clear of the reigning champions at the halfway stage.

Is it any wonder why some are touting this to be the biggest week at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement?

Solskjaer is right, though. That assessment is a little excitable. It is still very early in an unpredictable year.

“We are better off this season than last season compared to the same time last year,” he admitted on Monday. “We’ve won more games, scored more goals, played better football. That’s a positive but as I said, no-one remembers January league tables. For us, it’s just about developing this team and improving.”

Even so, if United do go top tonight, it will be the first time that they have graced the summit this late into the season since the last of Ferguson’s titles. In that sense, it would be symbolic: a sign that the club has the potential to contend again after the best part of eight years in the doldrums.

Solskjaer said he is “very happy” with his players’ mentality now, having sensed the mood gradually shift during his two years in charge. “I expect them to go into every single game with a mental readiness, to work hard for your team to win it and the results will come.

“We have some good characters in the team, the dressing room is louder, it’s more vocal,” he added. “We’ve got Nemanja Matic, who has won it a few times. Juan Mata, Edinson [Cavani], Bruno [Fernandes] coming in.”

And it is Fernandes, more than any other player, has been the catalyst. Take the league table from his arrival last January and United already sit at the top, hence why Solskjaer singled him out while speaking about his squad’s hunger for success.

“I think he wants to feel part of a team that is going to be challenging for trophies,” he said. “We have more players that can grab the situation.”

That defeat to Burnley happened to be United’s final league game before completing Fernandes’ £47m arrival from Sporting Clube de Portugal. Solskjaer was asked on Monday whether the transformative effect which that signing has made will tempt him into the mid-season market again.

He politely explained that this time around, he does not feel the need to. “The situation is different now from a year ago.”



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