Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is refusing to buy into the narrative that Manchester United are out of form as they prepare for a grudge match against Manchester City.
After three goalless draws in a row, United will be hoping for more excitement in the Manchester derby.
It currently looks like rivals Man City are destined to go on and win the league, but this could be United’s last real chance to claw their way back into contention.
In reality, even if United were to win, they would still have a mountain to climb to catch City. Given how dominant their rivals have been recently, it would still be an achievement to finish second to them.
Solskjaer is not considering that just yet, though. He wants full focus on the upcoming game before United aim to make more progress.
“Our focus is just on this one game, not where we could end up,” he said.
“We have to be the best possible Man Utd and try to improve on last season. More points, hopefully get to a final. We have to challenge ourselves.
“They are ahead of us by a far distance so it is a test for us.”
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The aim for United in the long-term will be to establish themselves above their neighbours again. At present, though, City are on top.
Solskjaer gave little away when asked about the differences between the two clubs.
“I don’t worry, I can only control what is happening at Man Utd,” he added.
“There are so many differences between the clubs. At the moment they are the only team ahead of us.”
It wasn’t so long ago that United were above their opponents. They led the way in the Premier League in January, but their form has suffered significantly since they topped the table and they have since been overtaken.
Since they were first, Solskjaer’s side have dropped points to the likes of Sheffield United, West Brom and Crystal Palace – as well as some of the teams closer to them in the table.
Solskjaer believes only fine margins have been to blame for their slip-off, though.
“When you get the results sometimes you forget the actual performances,” he said.
“West Brom game wasn’t the best quality, Palace game of course. But if you compare to last season’s match it wasn’t too dissimilar.
“In the Premier League when opponents don’t make mistakes you’ve got to earn it. We lacked that, but then we are still unbeaten. Three, four weeks ago the narrative was we couldn’t defend, now it is we can’t score.
“Not long ago we played really well vs [Real] Sociedad and Southampton. It’s those margins.”
No dip in form, claims Solskjaer
Solskjaer gave similar reasoning for their struggles in bigger games this season. United have failed to beat any of their traditional top six rivals so far, recently drawing a blank against Chelsea, for example.
The Norwegian coach thinks United are improving on such a stage, though – something that City will put to the test.
“We have looked at it,” he said of their approach to big games. “We have been, in a strange way, more positive.
“High press in more or less every game, trying to pin teams back. Last year maybe we relied more on the counter-attacks.
“We have tried to be more positive but we have not been clinical enough. They’ve been tight games.”
In fact, Solskjaer refused to even acknowledge that United are out of form. Instead, he thinks there are collective reasons for their recent slide.
“It comes from everyone,” he said. “We’ve had a week without scoring a week, it’s not like we had six weeks with no form. We beat Sociedad 4-0, Southampton 9-0.
“It’s also the opposition. But I’m not buying into the narrative that we’ve had a dip in form. Three 0-0s isn’t really us but we’ve just lacked a bit of spark. I don’t buy the out of form one.”
A loss to City would put that opinion in question, as well as furthering their risk of slipping down the table.
However, Solskjaer is not concerned that United could end up finishing outside the top four.
“Well there are still 11 league games to go,” he said. “I’ve always said lets get to March and April before we talk about the title race.
“We’ve given ourselves a very good chance to improve on last season. There are loads of quality teams and we can only control ourselves.”