Far from being dismayed by Manchester United’s worst start to a season in three decades coinciding with Liverpool’s best, Ole Gunnar Solskjær came out with fighting talk that bordered on the provocative as he prepared for Sunday’s north-west derby at Old Trafford.
A draw would denyLiverpoola record-equalling 18 th consecutive top-flight victory and in the circumstances most United supporters would probably be happy enough with a point against the leaders, though Solskjær insists his side will be going for a win.
“You never take a draw when you’re atManchester United, I want to go out there and get three points,” he says. “We need points and we need to start winning. It doesn’t matter if it’s Liverpool, Man City or Brighton. ”
Solskjær’s famous optimism has just been boosted by the latest vote of confidence from United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. Although he acknowledges the rebuilding process will take time, the manager could not resist an unflattering reference to the number of years it took Liverpool to mount a convincing title challenge.
“Manchester United will bounce back and win the league,” he says. “We might have to wait a while but I’m sure it is not going to be 30 years before the next title. ”
While Solskjær is in the business of geeing his players up for big games, anyone who has seen United this season will be aware that his can-do attitude does not seem to be transmitting itself to the team on the pitch.
“We know we aren’t creating enough chances, we need to be more adventurous,” he says. “One of my big philosophies is to play attacking football by launching attacks quickly, but to do that you need confidence to move the ball forward.”
When Solskjær arrived to make such a dramatic impactmidway through last seasonhe had United doing just that, playing the sort of instinctive, attacking football Woodward claims the club will always demand. The puzzle at the moment is why that confidence has dried up and where the attacking verve has gone.
To an extent Solskjær has been unlucky with injuries, although he accepts it was a risk packing Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez off to Italy without bringing in any replacements, and if a couple of VAR decisions had gone his way or if Harry Maguire had scored from three yards out against Newcastle the mood might by now be different.
But in order to fulfil another Woodward requirement, Solskjær has been picking young players and he has a counterintuitive theory that it may be slowing the team down. “We had a good spell last season playing fast, fluid counterattacking football, but since then opponents have been setting up to try to stop us doing that,” he says. “Either we haven’t been given the chance or we haven’t been able to grasp it.
“Young, inexperienced players often want to play safe for fear of making a mistake. At this club we prefer them to take risks, because we know these players are good enough, but if you lack confidence you sometimes think twice instead of acting on instinct.
“Football nowadays is so quick in the moment of transition, teams spring back into shape so swiftly after losing the ball, that it only takes one or two square passes for the opportunity to disappear. I want to defend well in the sense of winning the ball in great positions to set up an attack. That’s the next bit we need to get right. ”
If Solskjær and his players need an example of how this theory works in practice they know they have only to study Jürgen Klopp’s lightning-quick side, now reaping the benefits of four years of stability and steady improvement. With United likely to be without important players in David de Gea and Paul Pogba, the score could be embarrassing if the game goes according to form, though Solskjær knows enough about United-Liverpool matches to understand that form often goes out of the window.
“We are looking forward to this game,” he says. “Manchester United players always do. A good performance against Liverpool could be a turning point for us, it could lift confidence and change the mood around the club. Our players are good enough, I have no worries about that, we just need them to show why they are playing for Manchester United. ”