Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has built a platform for Manchester United to progress despite title failure

This was a disappointing end to Manchester United’s title bid… but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has built a platform for the Red Devils to now progress for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson departed eight years ago

On the face of it this was a pretty strange way to try and chase down a Premier League title that was technically still there to be won. A raft of changes from the weekend and a performance that smelled just a little bit of uninterest.

But for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, this was never about winning the league.

This was a season that began with a home defeat by Crystal Palace, a setback soon followed by a 6-1 dismantling from Tottenham. From that point, the direction of travel has been largely north. United have made progress under Solskjaer more impressively than many of us ever thought possible and that was always the ambition.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has Manchester United heading in the right direction despite title failure

United's Premier League title bid ended on Tuesday evening after Caglar Soyuncu's (back) second half header saw them lose 2-1 to Leicester City at Old Trafford

United’s Premier League title bid ended on Tuesday evening after Caglar Soyuncu’s (back) second half header saw them lose 2-1 to Leicester City at Old Trafford

This was a disappointing end to their nominal pursuit of new champions Manchester City. But it was understandable.

Liverpool visit Old Trafford on Thursday and United have an opportunity to all but end their rivals’ Champions League hopes. That would be sweet. Then, later this month, they play in the final of the Europa League.

So, yes, this has been a season of significant steps forward by United. They are not yet a team ready to compete properly for a league title, especially given the improvements we can expect to see in Chelsea and Liverpool next year.

But they are closer. Solskjaer has built his club a platform from which they can push forwards and he is the first United manager to have done that since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Although Harry Maguire is now nursing a ligament injury, Solskjaer has enjoyed the benefits of fielding a settled back four for much of the campaign

Although Harry Maguire is now nursing a ligament injury, Solskjaer has enjoyed the benefits of fielding a settled back four for much of the campaign

Highlights in United's season featured a 2-0 win at rivals Manchester City, with Bruno Fernandes pictured celebrating his side's second goal at the Etihad Stadium

Highlights in United’s season featured a 2-0 win at rivals Manchester City, with Bruno Fernandes pictured celebrating his side’s second goal at the Etihad Stadium

United will have improvement to make if they want to get there. They have been relatively fortunate with injuries this season. Solskjaer has been able to field a settled back four all campaign and rely on the creativity of Bruno Fernandes throughout. The importance of those two factors cannot be understated.

United also need to be better and – strange as it sounds – braver against the big teams. Under Solskjaer, United have lacked some personality at times.

Performances at Anfield and the Emirates this season, for example, were desperately short on confidence against Liverpool and Arsenal teams that were there to be beaten. Both games ended 0-0. In the glory years of this football club, they certainly would not have.

Equally, there have been glimpses of a team on the rise in recent weeks and months.

Manchester United are heading in the right direction for the first time since their last title success under Sir Alex Ferguson eight years ago

Manchester United are heading in the right direction for the first time since their last title success under Sir Alex Ferguson eight years ago

A second-half performance to win at Tottenham last month was superb, as was a win at City. Strangely, the new champions are one side that seem to bring the best out of Solskjaer’s team. 

Meanwhile the retaining of Edinson Cavani well in advance of next season may be indicative of some overdue joined up thinking at executive level now that Darren Fletcher and John Murtagh have been placed in control of strategic matters.

Cavani, the centre forward, has been terrific to watch. A personal highlight was his performance in a League Cup win at Everton just before Christmas. The Uruguayan was magnificent that night and will be a sight to relish in front of the paying public at Old Trafford next season.

And that is when we will see the real worth or otherwise of this team. Next season.

Edinson Cavani has been retained for 2021-22 following a decent campaign from the veteran

Edinson Cavani has been retained for 2021-22 following a decent campaign from the veteran

United need additions this summer. Another central defender, for sure, and maybe another wide player.

If they get that bit right then Solskjaer must believe his team can win a title. It is then that we will discover whether this United team really does have the strength of character to play for a whole nine months.

Solskjaer has been calm during some periods of pressure this season and, when it has been needed, has shown a little authority too. The Norwegian has always been somewhat harder than he looks.

Having arrived as an emergency and short-term replacement for Jose Mourinho in December 2018, the 48-year-old has travelled some distance since then.

This season we crown one of the best champion teams in recent memory and currently United are only 10 points behind them. That must tell us something.

Advertisement


Solskjaer: Manchester United MUST strengthen to challenge Man City

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warns he must be allowed to strengthen his squad if they are to challenge Manchester City after Leicester City defeat hands their neighbours the Premier League title

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has congratulated Manchester City on their title victory 
  • Their triumph was confirmed after Manchester United lost to Leicester City  
  • The Norwegian has warned he must be allowed to strengthen to challenge  

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer congratulated Manchester City on winning the Premier League title and admitted he needs new signings this summer to compete with Pep Guardiola next season.

Manchester United’s first league defeat in 15 games at home to Leicester City last night saw City crowned champions, and Solskjaer is already looking at how he can close the gap on his neighbours.

‘If you want to take up the challenge with them we need to strengthen our squad,’ said the United boss.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has congratulated Manchester City on their Premier League title victory

‘Congratulations to them. They’ve had a fantastic season but I’m very pleased with my boys that we have made it to the last 10 days with a City side ahead of us that are lauded as the best in Europe.

‘We want to take the next step and it might be that we need a couple more to strengthen the squad.’

Having tied Edinson Cavani to a new one-year contract, it’s understood that United are looking to bring goalkeeper Tom Heaton back to Old Trafford from Aston Villa on a free transfer – a move that would cast further doubt over David de Gea’s future at the club.

Solskjaer made 10 changes for United’s third game in six days ahead of Thursday’s clash with Liverpool who saw their top-four hopes dented by Leicester’s win last night.

Solskjaer was forced to make 10 changes from the weekend, and brought in Anthony Elanga

Solskjaer was forced to make 10 changes from the weekend, and brought in Anthony Elanga

However the Norwegian once again defended his team selection after giving league debuts to Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga.

‘It can’t be like this again,’ he added. ‘It’s impossible and that’s the reason we made the changes.

‘It’s unheard of. It is impossible for the players to perform at this level going Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.’

Ironically, United conceded the decisive goal at a corner immediately after sending on Cavani and Marcus Rashford for Diallo and Elanga in the 66th minute.

Solskjaer admitted that it was the wrong moment to make substitutions, but felt that referee Craig Pawson should have awarded a throw-in instead.

The Norwegian admitted that making his double substitution at a corner was a mistake

The Norwegian admitted that making his double substitution at a corner was a mistake

‘That’s one of those golden rules isn’t it? You don’t make subs,’ he said. ‘First of all, it should have been thrown-in not a corner. But we should have done better of course.’

Earlier, the United manager confirmed that captain Harry Maguire faces a race against time to be fit for the Europa League final against Villarreal on May 26 after suffering ankle ligament damage in Sunday’s win at Aston Villa.

Maguire was on crutches at Old Trafford last night and Solskjaer said: ‘He’s obviously had the scans and the good news is there is no fracture.

‘There’s ligament damage but hopefully we will see him again this season. Hopefully, he’ll be ready for the final.’

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was delighted to see his team clinch three vital points in their bid for a Champions League place before they face Chelsea in the FA Cup final this weekend.

‘It’s a huge step,’ said Rodgers. ‘We’ve got to 66 points now but there are still two games to go.

‘We’ve done some great work to get to this stage. It’s amazing. We can get ready to take on the Champions League finalists and chance for history at the weekend.’

Solskjaer confirmed that Harry Maguire had sustained ligament damage on his left ankle

Solskjaer confirmed that Harry Maguire had sustained ligament damage on his left ankle 

Advertisement


Manchester United: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes Harry Maguire will be fit for Europa League final

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes Harry Maguire will be fit for Europa League final after confirming he sustained ankle ligament damage against Villa… as Manchester United skipper dons protective boot while watching clash against Leicester from the stands

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to have Harry Maguire for the Europa League final
  • The Manchester United captain picked up an ankle injury in the win over Villa
  • Maguire was seen wearing a protective boot at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening
  • The defender watched United take on Leicester in their Premier League clash 

Manchester United skipper Harry Maguire races race against the clock to be fit for club’s Europa League final after picking up an ankle injury against Aston Villa on Sunday.

However, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to have Maguire back for the Gdansk showpiece despite cameras showing the defender on crutches while wearing a protective boot after sustaining ankle ligament damage.

The 28-year-old was on the cusp of becoming the first outfield player in the club’s history to complete 72 consecutive Premier League matches until being forced off towards the end of Sunday’s 3-1 win at Villa Park.

Harry Maguire faces race to get fit for Manchester United’s Europa League final this month

Maguire was seen on crutches while wearing a protective boot after picking up an ankle injury

Maguire was seen on crutches while wearing a protective boot after picking up an ankle injury

Maguire missed his first top-flight match since joining United in 2019 on Tuesday when former club Leicester came to Old Trafford and was seen in the stands wearing the medical boot.

Solskjaer confirmed in his pre-match interview with MUTV that the centre back had avoided a fracture but faces a battle to get back for the Europa League final against Villarreal on May 26.

‘Obviously we’ve had scans and the good news is there’s no fracture,’ the United boss said.

Maguire picked up the ankle injury during United's 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday

Maguire picked up the ankle injury during United’s 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Sunday

The Manchester United centre half was injured in a challenge with Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

The Manchester United centre half was injured in a challenge with Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

‘(There is) ligament damage and hopefully we’ll see him again this season. Hopefully ready for the final.’

Maguire, who has been ever-present in the Premier League since joining United for £80million from Leicester in the summer of 2019, tweeted at the weekend: ‘Hoping the injury isn’t nothing serious and I’ll be back playing soon.’ 

Gareth Southgate will be sweating on Maguire’s fitness, with the England boss naming his Euro 2020 squad on May 25.

Advertisement


Edinson Cavani signs one-year contract extension with Manchester United

Edinson Cavani signs one-year contract extension with Manchester United after turning down Boca Juniors for an extra season in Europe

  • Edinson Cavani has put pen to paper on a one-year extension with Man United
  • The club are expected to announce the news of the fresh deal imminently
  • Cavani had the option of the extension but had reservations about staying on
  • The in-form Uruguayan has eight goals in his last seven games for the Red Devils

Edinson Cavani has put pen to paper on a one-year extension with Manchester United, following talks with the club.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been forthcoming in recent weeks regarding his desire to see the in-form veteran continue at Old Trafford, and now an agreement has been reached.

Cavani, 34, has signed until the summer of 2022 after turning down an enticing offer from Boca Juniors in order to spend one more season in elite European football.

Edinson Cavani has put pen to paper on a one-year extension with Manchester United

It is expected that United will confirm the news imminently, ahead of their match with Leicester City on Tuesday evening.

The news arrives off the back of a dazzling run for Cavani, who recently hit a brace in Rome to book United’s place in the Europa League final, before coming off the bench to score against Aston Villa on Sunday.

The Uruguayan has now displaced Marcus Rashford as United’s first choice forward, though Solskjaer remains insistent that the minutes of the veteran star must still be monitored.

Cavani has adapted to English football and created an understanding with Bruno Fernandes

Cavani has adapted to English football and created an understanding with Bruno Fernandes

Earlier in the campaign Solskjaer told fans the club was in dialogue with Cavani, outlining: ‘We’re speaking to Eddy.

‘Edinson is a top striker and whatever he decides to do, let’s see. We’re in good dialogue with him.’

In late April, Solskjaer conceded that a return to more familiar settings in South America may have been on the cards for Cavani.

The United boss told reporters: ‘Edinson is not 100% decided on his future yet.

‘He’s not told me he wants to leave but I am very aware he might be going back home to South America. If that’s his decision, I will understand that.’

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had make no secret of his desire for Cavani to prolong his United stay

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had make no secret of his desire for Cavani to prolong his United stay

Now, however, a decision has been reached and Cavani will continue to wear the colours of United for at least one more season, as the club look to build on the progress of the current campaign and make an assault on the league title and Champions League. 

Cavani signed on a free transfer from French giants Paris Saint-Germain in October 2020, reportedly taking a 35 per cent pay cut to move to Old Trafford but netting a signing on fee in the region of £6million.

Advertisement


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he has NO choice but to rotate Man United side ahead of Leicester clash

‘Don’t blame me when I have to make changes because I have to’: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists he has NO choice but to rotate his Man United side ahead of Leicester clash amid hectic run of three games in five days

  • Manchester United are in the midst of a hectic run in the Premier League
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face three games in five days in the Premier League 
  • United face Leicester on Tuesday before taking on rivals Liverpool two days later
  • The Red Devils are trying to consolidate second place in the English top-flight 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists it’s unfair to blame him if he puts out a weakened team against Leicester at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.

Having fielded a strong line-up at Aston Villa on Sunday, Solskjaer is expected to make wholesale changes against Leicester before recalling more of his first-choice players at home to Liverpool 48 hours later.

The issue has raised concerns over the integrity of the Premier League with Leicester and Liverpool among the clubs battling for a top-four spot.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side are in the middle of a hectic run of fixtures

However, Solskjaer believes he has no choice but to use all the resources at his disposal after United were handed a run of three games in five days by the Premier League straight after playing in the Europa League semi-final in Rome last Thursday.

‘Talking about integrity in the league and stuff, don’t blame me when I have to make changes because I have to,’ he said. ‘It’s not safe for them to play all four so I have to prioritise.

‘I wish I could have said “let’s go full out in all the games” but it’s impossible. That’s the hard bit for me, knowing if I do play this 11 on Tuesday and then again on Thursday it’s impossible. I run too much of a risk in injuring them.’

Solskjaer will wait until Tuesday before deciding on his team after he has assessed the players, but expects to include some youngsters in the squad.

After beating Aston Villa on Sunday, United face Leicester and Liverpool in space of 48 hours

After beating Aston Villa on Sunday, United face Leicester and Liverpool in space of 48 hours

Mason Greenwood is one United star that Solskjaer may look to protect against Leicester

Mason Greenwood is one United star that Solskjaer may look to protect against Leicester

‘They’re in contention, definitely,’ he added. ‘They’re in the first-team squad they’re training with us every day, so I would think that some of the young boys will get an appearance definitely.

‘If it’s coming on towards the end or it’s starting I don’t know because I don’t know how the players will be on Tuesday when we see them.

‘We will sit down with the sports scientists on Monday. We can have a theoretical team now but we’ll have to see how they react when they come in and then pick a team Tuesday afternoon.’

Mason Greenwood is one of the players Solskjaer may have to protect after the teenager played 90 minutes against Roma and more than an hour at Villa where he scored the second goal in a 3-1 win.

Harry Maguire will miss out against Leicester after twisting his ankle at Villa Park on Sunday

Harry Maguire will miss out against Leicester after twisting his ankle at Villa Park on Sunday

‘Thursday night he worked his socks off and then he’s going again and he’s tired,’ said Solskjaer. ‘His body is not really filled out yet and he might not be ready for all of these games, but he’s got something special.

‘The kid just turns the game around in one split second and the goal (at Villa) was excellent. I’m delighted that he’s got back to his goal scoring best.

‘I can say that Mason is learning all the time. He’s learning on the job which isn’t easy. He’s had to bear a lot of responsibility and he’s popped up with so many important goals for us.’

Advertisement


Dean Smith slams ‘pathetic’ call to award Manchester United a penalty after challenge on Paul Pogba

Dean Smith slams ‘pathetic’ decision to award Manchester United a penalty after a challenge on Paul Pogba – with Aston Villa boss insisting he is ‘fed up’ of discussing Red Devils spot-kicks

  • Smith’s Villa side took the lead in the first half through winger Bertrand Traore 
  • United equalised via Bruno Fernandes after Chris Kavanagh awarded a penalty
  • The visitors went on to win 3-1, but Smith was again unhappy with the officials 

Dean Smith hit out at the ‘pathetic decision’ to award Manchester United a penalty for Douglas Luiz’s challenge on Paul Pogba at Villa Park on Sunday.

The same two players were involved in an incident that led to Bruno Fernandes scoring United’s winner from the spot at Old Trafford in January.

Fernandes also converted a penalty at Villa Park last season when he was fouled by Ezri Konsa.

Aston Villa’s Dean Smith has slammed the ‘pathetic’ decision to award a penalty to Paul Pogba

The Manchester United midfielder was adjudged to have been caught by Villa's Douglas Luiz

The Manchester United midfielder was adjudged to have been caught by Villa’s Douglas Luiz

Bruno Fernandes scored the spot-kick to equalise, and United went on to beat Smith's side 3-1

Bruno Fernandes scored the spot-kick to equalise, and United went on to beat Smith’s side 3-1

Former referee Mark Clattenburg: My verdict

Come off it Dean, it’s a clear penalty! 

The penalty was an absolute gift for Manchester United from Douglas Luiz. Paul Pogba had his back to the Aston Villa goal and was going nowhere. 

Yet Luiz committed his challenge from behind, right in front of referee Chris Kavanagh, and didn’t get the ball.

You could see from the reaction of the Villa players that they knew Luiz had made a mistake.

Pogba had been clever in getting his body between his opponent and the ball. The Frenchman then felt the tackle come into the back of him.

He went down, Kavanagh pointed to the spot and United had been gifted a route back into the game. 

And the Portuguese scored a spot kick for the third time against Villa on Sunday to make it 1-1.

Villa manager Smith felt Pogba went down far too easily again to sway referee Chris Kavanagh’s decision, which was confirmed by VAR.

‘I’m fed up with talking about penalty decisions against Man United,’ said Smith. ‘Paul Pogba tripped himself up at Old Trafford and it’s another soft pen today. Douglas Luiz shouldn’t have planted a foot or given him the opportunity to go down.

‘But it looked a pathetic decision to me. Was that enough for him to go down? No. But he goes down, similar at Old Trafford, similar last season here, and I said that before the game.

‘Everybody’s confused that Raheem Sterling can go through last night (for Manchester City against Chelsea), have four of five touches on his backside, go down and not get a penalty.

‘Then there’s one touch and we go down and it’s a penalty (for Pogba). The whole of the football world is confused at the moment.’

Smith also criticised the decision to show Villa striker Ollie Watkins a second yellow card for diving after he went down under goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s challenge late in the game.

‘There’s no way the referee can tell me that he’s convinced he (Watkins) hasn’t been touched,’ added the Villa manager. 

And the frustrated Villa boss (above) blasted the officials after the match for their decision

And the frustrated Villa boss (above) blasted the officials after the match for their decision

‘I just don’t understand the decision-making of the officials at the moment and, more important, Stockley Park when they’re actually looking at it slowly. It looks like now he’s going to have to get hurt to win the penalty. 

‘He touches it past the goalkeeper. Is there enough contact for Ollie to go down? No. But like I said, there wasn’t enough for Pogba to go down.’

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he doesn’t expect Manchester City to slip up in the title race but was happy to see his team secure a Champions League place ahead of this week’s games against Leicester and Liverpool.

‘It’s a massive result,’ said Solskjaer. ‘It takes a little bit of the pressure away.’  

Advertisement


Manchester United’s Harry Maguire is an injury doubt for Europa League final with a twisted ankle

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire is an injury doubt for the Europa League final after suffering a twisted ankle in 3-1 win against Aston Villa in a huge blow for the Red Devils

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side beat ten-man Aston Villa 3-1 on Sunday afternoon
  • Result means Manchester City have to wait before being crowned champions 
  • Maguire broke a run of playing every league minute since arriving in July 2019
  • The England centre half previously blasted the club’s ‘ridiculous’ fixture pile-up 

Harry Maguire could be out of the Europa League final after he limped out of the 2-1 win at Aston Villa with a twisted ankle.

The Manchester United skipper was hurt in a collision with Anwar El Ghazi and will have scans on Monday.

The injury broke Maguire’s run of playing every minute for United in the Premier League since joining from Leicester in the summer of 2019.

Harry Maguire could miss the Europa League final after picking up an injury against Aston Villa

The Manchester United centre half was injured in a challenge with Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

The Manchester United centre half was injured in a challenge with Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi

Maguire, 28, initially tried to play on but went down again on the pitch and was eventually replaced by Ivorian Eric Bailly in the 78th minute. 

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that the England defender could be out for a ‘few weeks’ — raising fears over his place in the Europa League final against Villarreal on May 26 in Gdansk, Poland.

‘We’ve got to check him,’ said Solskjaer. ‘It might be a few weeks, it might be a couple of days. Hopefully he won’t be too bad.’ 

Former Leicester centre half Maguire previously blasted the club’s ‘ridiculous’ fixture pile-up that sees them play three matches across just five days.

The 28-year-old had previously played every Premier League minute since signing in July 2019

The 28-year-old had previously played every Premier League minute since signing in July 2019

He told Manchester United’s website: ‘It’s going to be very tough. I don’t think it’s ever been done in Premier League history. I don’t know why it’s been done.

‘Three games in five days is just ridiculous. It’s tough when you have two games in three days over the Christmas period, as happens sometimes. To have three in five, I don’t know where that’s come from; I don’t know why they’ve decided on that.

‘To be available for selection, and the manager to show the faith in me to play me in every Premier League game since I’ve signed, is a proud achievement. But for sure, it’s going to be tough to play three games in five days.

But now manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears Maguire could be out for the next few weeks

But now manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears Maguire could be out for the next few weeks

‘It’s a proud record of mine and to be dealt that from our fixtures and our schedule is a tough one to take if it does come to that, that I do need a rest in one of the games.’

Had Maguire completed the full game against Aston Villa, it would have marked 72 consecutive Premier League matches without missing a minute – breaking former United defender Gary Pallister’s record of 71. 

The result means fierce rivals Manchester City cannot yet be officially crowned as Premier League champions, although that is expected to be a formality. 

Advertisement


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hails Manchester United win ahead of Leicester and Liverpool games this week

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hails ‘massive, massive result’ for Manchester United after they fought back to beat Aston Villa… as he insists confidence is high among his players going into huge week with Leicester and Liverpool to play before next weekend

  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised his side after they came from behind to win 3-1
  • Aston Villa took the lead but Manchester United fought back to take three points
  • Victory kept confidence high ahead of matches with Leicester and Liverpool
  • United are now unbeaten in 25 matches away from home in the Premier League 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was full of praise for his Manchester United side after they battled to a 3-1 over Aston Villa to keep the momentum going during a chaotic period of fixtures.

After overcoming Roma in the Europa League on Thursday, United extended their unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League to 25 matches with victory at Villa Park.

Solskjaer’s men now face Leicester on Tuesday before welcoming Liverpool to Old Trafford just 48 hours later, but the United boss was in upbeat mood looking ahead to the manic schedule.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Manchester United after their 3-1 comeback win over Aston Villa

Edinson Cavani sealed the win late on ahead of a manic week of fixtures for his side

Edinson Cavani sealed the win late on ahead of a manic week of fixtures for his side 

‘We can just go into the next one confident, go and enjoy it,’ Solskjaer told SkySports.

‘We know it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be a physical test, these next three days, but we’ve got to make the most of it. 

‘It’s always going to be difficult after you’ve been in Europe, in Rome, and didn’t come back until half four, five o’clock in the morning on Friday. 

‘[It was a] great reaction at half-time again even though first half, I felt we were the better team. We created more chances, but we couldn’t get the goal.’

This was the 10th time that United have conceded the first goal away from home in the league this season, and once again they went in behind at the break.

United once again conceded the first goal as Bertrand Traore put Villa ahead in the first half

United once again conceded the first goal as Bertrand Traore put Villa ahead in the first half

But goals from Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani ensured another comeback win to all but guarantee the club’s place in the top four.

United have now won 31 points from losing positions, and their manager refused to criticise his side for another slow start.

‘I can’t blame them,’ Solskjaer said. ‘The advantage of being fresh going into a game like this is quite high. It’s coincidence.

‘We could have scored the first goal once or twice before they scored. They scored from nothing, good goal by the way. 

‘I’m pleased with everyone. I know how hard it is at the end of a long, long season.’

But Mason Greenwood scored to put United in front and on their way to another comeback win

But Mason Greenwood scored to put United in front and on their way to another comeback win

Advertisement


Manchester United: How the Glazers have left Old Trafford in decay

It’s nicknamed ‘the Theatre of Dreams’ but as Gary Neville has repeatedly pointed out over the last couple of weeks, the cold reality is that Old Trafford is anything but.

That’s not because of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s failure to deliver a Premier League title to Manchester United fans. Neville has no element of doubt about it – it is the fault of the Glazers, who he says have left the venue ‘rusty and rotting’.

At surface level, Old Trafford appears to be a fantastic stadium and its capacity of 76,000 is the highest in the Premier League. But the work to fit that many people in was completed back in 2006 and given the go-ahead before the Glazers bought the club in 2005. 

Old Trafford is a prestigious stadium but there are criticisms of how the Glazers have run the venue – and allowed it to decay – since buying Manchester United back in 2005

The roof leaked amid a heavy downpour of rain before United played Manchester City in 2019

It is a problem that has occurred before - notably when Old Trafford hosted Olympic football in 2012

United fans often complain about the leaky roof at Old Trafford – it was particularly bad when there was heavy downpour ahead of the Manchester derby (left) in 2019, while fans watching Olympic football in 2012 (right) were also caught out by it

Hundreds of Manchester United fans stormed the pitch at Old Trafford in protest at the club's American owners before Sunday match with Liverpool, which was later postponed

Hundreds of Manchester United fans stormed the pitch at Old Trafford in protest at the club’s American owners before Sunday match with Liverpool, which was later postponed 

Now, bigger does not mean better and other venues lead the way. Tottenham’s stadium is perhaps the finest in all of sport, Manchester City have since expanded the Etihad while United fans may even cast a begrudging eye down the M62 at Anfield and acknowledge that Fenway Sports Group, for their downsides, have overseen a great job of renovating Liverpool’s Main Stand. 

According to the football blog Swiss Ramble, United have spent £118m on their stadium in the last 11 years whereas Liverpool have spent £278m, City £374m and Tottenham £1.4bn. 

And at City, the corporate package exceeds anything United have to offer. The Tunnel Club is the jewel in the crown, allowing supporters to watch teams line up before walking out onto the pitch via windows in the tunnel. That experience costs upwards of £299 per game but even City’s fan zone is widely considered to better than what is on offer at United.

City benefit from having a lot of land around the club whereas at United, space is a little bit more cramped. Specifically, it is their south stand that is the issue.

There is a railway track that runs behind that part of the stadium which, along with the housing, restricts how much United can do to expand it going forward.

Sportsmail reported in February last year that while United would ideally like to expand Old Trafford’s capacity up to 90,000, work to get it up to scratch would not just cost £200million, but would also leave United looking for a temporary home.

‘It’s a very complex engineering challenge to deliver,’ Manchester United managing director Richard Arnold said, according to the BBC in 2018. ‘It would be a multi-season challenge and it isn’t certain that there’s a way of doing it which doesn’t render us homeless.’

The common consensus from every United fan that sits in that part of the stadium – which was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand in 2016 – is that it feels out of date. The roof has been known to leak when it rains and this has long been a complaint of matchgoing supporters. 

Manchester City's tunnel club corporate package far exceeds anything at United

Manchester City’s tunnel club corporate package far exceeds anything at United

At Liverpool, owners Fenway Sports Group have their faults but they have overseen a fine job of Anfield's Main Stand being renovated to increase capacity there

At Liverpool, owners Fenway Sports Group have their faults but they have overseen a fine job of Anfield’s Main Stand being renovated to increase capacity there

Gary Neville has often underlined his unhappiness at the current standard of Old Trafford

Gary Neville has often underlined his unhappiness at the current standard of Old Trafford

In April 2019, a storm hit north west England and in the hours before the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, part of the roof gave way and water was pouring onto empty seats below.

A similar thing happened in 2012 when Old Trafford hosted Olympic football – a torrential downpour during Spain v Morocco saw leaks appear in numerous parts of the roof. Stewards were able to move fans around the stadium that day because it was not at full capacity.

Another example where Old Trafford has caused embarrassment has come in their rodent issues.

Sportsmail reported back in January 2015 how United were battling with a mice infestation in the stadium and that as well as getting onto the pitch, the critters had also made their way into staff offices.

But they failed to act on it and later that year, in September, United were criticised  by council inspectors for ‘failing to implement adequate procedures to control pests’, particularly in areas of the stadium where food was being served.

Mice have repeatedly been a problem at Old Trafford and it is likely that it is in part an issue of its location, near to a canal. 

In 2010, a mouse was seen scurrying across the pitch as United played against West Ham and four years earlier, in 2006, Burton Albion complained to the referee during their 5-0 FA Cup defeat that there were mice all over the pitch.

Old Trafford's south stand, which has been renamed after Sir Bobby Charlton, needs work to modernise it, but its location is an issue for maintenance to be carried out

Old Trafford’s south stand, which has been renamed after Sir Bobby Charlton, needs work to modernise it, but its location is an issue for maintenance to be carried out

Old Trafford has had problems with mice before and the rodents have been seen on the pitch

Old Trafford has had problems with mice before and the rodents have been seen on the pitch

A food and hygiene report in 2015 criticised United for failing to implement procedures that would control pests around the areas of the stadium where food is prepared

A food and hygiene report in 2015 criticised United for failing to implement procedures that would control pests around the areas of the stadium where food is prepared

This weekend’s protest against the Glazers coincided with Neville’s impassioned plea for the United owners sell up and he again underlined how unhappy he is with the standard of the stadium.

‘You look at the club now, this stadium I know it looks great here (on TV) but if you go behind the scenes it’s rusty and rotting,’ Neville said. ‘The training ground is probably not even top five in this country, they haven’t got to a Champions League semi-final in 10 years and we haven’t won a league here for eight years.

‘The land around the ground is undeveloped, dormant and derelict, while every other club seems to be developing the facilities and the fan experiences.

‘The Glazer family are struggling to meet the financial requirements, and the fans are saying enough is enough.’

And United fans share his dismay about Old Trafford. As debate raged on social media on Sunday about the Glazers, with some rival fans pointing to how much money the club has spent on transfers in their time, United supporters were quick to reference the condition of Old Trafford in reply.

United fans repeatedly referenced the state of Old Trafford as debate around the Glazers raged on social media over the weekend amid the protests

United fans repeatedly referenced the state of Old Trafford as debate around the Glazers raged on social media over the weekend amid the protests 

One United fan said that the leaky roof sums up how much the Glazers care about United

One United fan said that the leaky roof sums up how much the Glazers care about United

There is plenty that the Glazers could do to improve the matchday experience of United fans

There is plenty that the Glazers could do to improve the matchday experience of United fans

‘No investment in years at Old Trafford, leaks in the roof just show how much the Glazers care about our club,’ one fan wrote. ‘The legacy of our club is at risk if these people continue to take from this club. The time for them to go is now, no one wants an apology. #GlazersOut’

Another said: ‘They don’t care about the club and use it as a cash cow. Old Trafford is falling apart, leaks everywhere and the roofs (sic) a mess. Yet they’ve not done anything to fix the structure of the stadium.’

If the Glazers really are as thick-skinned as people think and have no plans to sell United, then renovations to the stadium are urgently needed. There is scope for the matchday experience of every United fan to be improved when they can finally return to games.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits Man United will have to play weakened team in Premier League run-in

Feisty Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warns clubs chasing a top-four finish he WILL have to play weakened teams against their rivals because of an ‘impossible’ fixture pile-up

  • Manchester United face a daunting run of four Premier League matches now
  • The Red Devils begin their brutal eight-day run with Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa
  • They then host Leicester on Tuesday before taking on Liverpool two days later
  • A home clash against Fulham on May 18 completes their daunting fixture list 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned he will have to field weakened teams that could affect the battle for Champions League places due to Manchester United’s fixture pile-up.

Solskjaer is unhappy that United have to play four times in eight days, including two games in the space of 50 hours against top-four rivals Leicester and Liverpool next week.

The United manager insists he will protect his players against the risk of injury and rotate his squad, even if that means upsetting clubs who feel United aren’t putting out their best team.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed he will be forced to field weakened XIs over the next games

Manchester United face a daunting task of four Premier League matches in just eight days

Manchester United face a daunting task of four Premier League matches in just eight days 

Thousands of United supporters held a demonstration against their owners on Sunday

Thousands of United supporters held a demonstration against their owners on Sunday

Some fans broke into the ground and caused the match with Liverpool to be postponed

Some fans broke into the ground and caused the match with Liverpool to be postponed

MAN UTD’S PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURE HELL

Sunday – Aston Villa (A), 2.05pm

Tuesday – Leicester (H), 6pm

Thursday – Liverpool (H), 8.15pm

Tuesday, May 18 – Fulham (H), 6pm 

After reaching the Europa League final by overcoming Roma on aggregate on Thursday night, United go to Aston Villa on Sunday followed by Leicester and Liverpool on Tuesday and Thursday.

‘I’ve got to think about my players but I know there will be teams fighting for the Champions League places that will not think that’s Man United’s best team, that’s not the best players,’ said Solskjaer.

‘That might be someone not happy with my team selection for one game or two games. That might affect whoever gets into the fourth position or the Champions League. That’s not my problem, that’s everyone else’s problem.

‘I can promise you that it’s impossible to play 90 minutes at this intensity, at that level in the Premier League four times from Thursday to Thursday. That means I cannot play everyone every minute which means we’ve got to prioritise.’

The likes of Bruno Fernandes will likely be involved in just one clash vs Leicester or Liverpool

The likes of Bruno Fernandes will likely be involved in just one clash vs Leicester or Liverpool

Asked if that could benefit either Liverpool or Leicester, raising issues over the integrity of the competition, Solskjaer replied: ‘Depends what team I put out in what games. One of them might not be happy because I play a full team maybe in one and the next 11 in the other.

‘If I’m going to look after the players, I’m going to make some decisions that will… yeah, of course, we just have to make decisions.

‘It’s got to be safe for the players. We want to try to put a good performance, a good product out there. But I cannot risk them so it has to be rotation – and it has to be a lot of rotation, a lot of decisions made on the day of the game.

‘I just keep my fingers crossed that nobody gets injured. That’s going to be my biggest concern, injuries.

‘Harry Maguire has played every minute for us in the Premier League since he came. I don’t think that’s possible now. That’s another record or another stat he could have been very proud of, but I can’t really see that happening now.’

Captain Harry Maguire is another virtual ever-present who will be forced to miss out one game

Captain Harry Maguire is another virtual ever-present who will be forced to miss out one game

The United manager promised that his team will try to make the best of a bad situation, but is still angry at being handed the exhausting run of games.

‘I’ve never seen that schedule before, not in modern-day football,’ added Solskjaer. ‘I’ve looked through and I know that Man United in 1991-92 had a very similar run-in and you can see how the results deteriorate.

‘So, for me, we’ve been dealt a very bad hand by people who sit behind a desk in their suits who have never played football and understand what this is about.

‘Sunday at 2pm is not the problem, that was always scheduled. Tuesday-Thursday after Thursday-Sunday, that’s a big problem.

Solskjaer is angry at being handed the exhausting run of games as they try to cement second

Solskjaer is angry at being handed the exhausting run of games as they try to cement second

‘We cannot prepare and prep for the game, which every team does – get a week or two or 10 days or five days. This is someone else dealing hands.

‘Two games in three days is difficult but you can accept that we do that at Christmas. Two games in three days after a long season, with all the games we’ve had, is even more difficult. Three games in five days, is very very difficult, almost impossible. Four games in eight, it is impossible.

‘This year has been so difficult, this season has been so difficult. I’m not sitting here sulking but I’m saying someone there does not understand the physicality of the Premier League. It’s the best league in world. I don’t know how you can defend playing these three games in such a short space of time.

‘It’s one of those things that I know my players will take head on and we as a group will be stronger for it when we come out of it.’

Advertisement