Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under no illusion about the challenge awaiting Manchester United when they take on Southampton – especially with some key players being unavailable or not fully fit.
Solskjaer was speaking ahead of United’s return to Premier League action on Sunday, when they will travel to the South Coast.
United are hoping to continue a three-match winning run, that most recently saw them beat Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League.
Their opponents have been in good form too, though, with Ralph Hasenhuttl guiding them to a seven-game unbeaten run that has seen them take points off the likes of Chelsea, Aston Villa and Everton.
Hence, it will not be a straight-forward game for United – something Solskjaer is aware of.
“A difficult one,” he said. “Over last 30, 40 game block they are one of the top teams.
“[They have] made great improvements so we know how difficult it will be. Drew twice with them last season.”
Solskjaer even compared the impact his counterpart Hasenhuttl has made to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“It is similar to when Jurgen came to Liverpool,” he said. “Likes pressing, front foot, aggressive. Difficult to play against if you dwell on the ball.
“Very interesting to watch their progress under Ralph. I am a big admirer of the physical attributes they have in their team.”
On the prospect of making it four wins in a row, Solskjaer added: “Of course we want the run to continue but we know how well Southampton have done in the last year or so.
“We have good away record and we are up there since turn of January. We have been pushing up the table, and we are getting that consistency.
“It is a nice challenge and a good test for us to see if we have learnt our lessons.”
Cavani, Van de Beek could play – but Pogba out
Solskjaer will have a depleted squad for the match, with the United boss confirming it is “very unlikely” that Paul Pogba or Scott McTominay will be able to play.
Pogba is suffering with an ankle injury, but Solskjer confirmed it was a “separate issue” to the one that kept him out last season.
However, he had better news about Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, even though they are not fully fit yet.
“Scott and Paul they didn’t train this morning, not on the grass,” Solskjaer said. “Very unlikely for the weekend.
“Marcus, Victor, Aaron should be okay but not 100%. Luke [Shaw] has started rehab on the grass, not with the squad.
“Jesse [Lingard] is back from his isolation period and has had a couple of days training and Phil Jones is out until after Christmas sometime.”
The lack of fully fit players could mean Solskjaer gives another opportunity to summer signings Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani.
Neither player has started a Premier League game yet, but they both did so in the Champions League in midweek. And Solskjaer says the large gap between the games means the pair are in contention to feature again.
“We played on Tuesday then we don’t have game until Sunday so it is strange for us, even gave boys one day off! Both available to play.”