Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had choice words for cross-town rivals Manchester City ahead of Saturday’s contentious derby. Speaking with reporters Friday morning, the Norwegian did not mince words when reflecting on his opponent’s mediocre past.
“At least we play every year now,” the manager said, via The Guardian. Solskjaer signed with the Red Devils in 1996, and the Citizens were still playing second-tier English football then. It was only in 2000 that the reigning domestic champions were promoted to the Premier League.
“It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself,” said Solskajer, who suited up for his first derby in April 2001. “It’s changed in a way.
“City are a better team now than when I was playing and football has changed quite a lot.”
Elaborating on the specific changes he means, the former United midfielder explained: “It was allowed a few more proper tackles, but now, with every little angle, everything being scrutinized, it’s more of a technical, tactical game than physical and mental.”
Nonetheless, the 46-year-old emphasized the significance of the derby to some extent, adding that United’s 2-1 home win against Tottenham Hotspur Wednesday should give his men a boost of confidence as they march into the Etihad this weekend.
“Manchester derbies are always special games, but you can’t say it matters more.
“For the fans, of course [it does]. We’re up for it, our fans are up for it, they were fantastic at home on Wednesday and I’m sure we’ll hear them on Saturday.”
Solskjaer Provides Crucial Injury Update, Pogba Ruled Out
City boss Pep Guardiola already confirmed that striker Sergio Aguero will not suit up for the derby due to a thigh injury, and now Solskjaer is confirming United will be without a star player of their own for the contest.
“Paul probably won’t be available, no,” Solskjaer said about attacking midfielder Paul Pogba. “We expect him back as soon as possible, as quickly as possible. He’s out on the grass training. I said [he’ll be back] in 2019, so hopefully we’ll see him before the new year, definitely.”
The World Cup winner is still nursing an ankle injury, picking up the knock in September. It was rumored Pogba would be ready in time for the busy December fixtures, but that doesn’t appear to be the case so far. Thankfully, another crucial member of United’s offensive unit will likely play some minutes, having sat out for the entirety of the Spurs match Wednesday.
“We hope to have Anthony, definitely, for part of the game. I am not sure he is able to start,” Solskjaer said of his number nine Anthony Martial. Mason Greenwood, the rising teenage star and academy graduate, was given the start in the Frenchman’s place.
The Boss Recently Responded to Rumored Sack Reports
Despite picking up a crucial three points against his predecessor Jose Mourinho’s Spurs earlier this week, Solskjaer is far from evading constant reports United are looking to replace him with ousted Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Ahead of that matchup, Solskjaer scoffed at rumors circulating that he informed players he could be sacked if United fail to pick up the win Saturday.
“I’m good. Absolutely no problems,” The Treble winner affirmed, per Manchester Evening News. “Sometimes you laugh when you read stories what I’ve said. At least I know the sources are just made up, blatantly lies.”
Solskjaer was appointed caretaker manager in December 2019 when United parted ways with Mourinho. Nearly a year into managing one of the most storied clubs in football, Solskjaer added that he’s not afraid of being fired by the year’s end, either.
“No it doesn’t make me more concerned. I’m just focusing on my job, and that’s doing as well as I can. Look forward to next game, look long-term, plan things with board.”
A win for United Saturday could see them one spot under top-four contention in fifth place. The 13-time Premier League champions are currently in sixth place.