Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taunted Manchester City on the eve of the derby by insisting Manchester United remain the bigger club – and assured fans they would reassert their supremacy in time.
United travel to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday hoping to close an 11-point gap as Solskjaer challenged his players to record back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time in nine months by dealing a “sucker punch” to the champions.
City have finished 19 and 32 points ahead of their rivals en route to successive titles over the past two seasons, while the re-emergence of Liverpool, 22 points clear of United at the top of the table, has posed an added challenge.
Yet Solskjaer is adamant United are still the bigger club and refuted claims by his predecessors David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, that City’s financial power had put them beyond reach on the pitch.
“I don’t agree – what are you going to do? Are you going to give up? Not challenge them? That’s what we’ve got to get back to,” said the United manager, who remains without midfielder Paul Pogba, but will welcome back Anthony Martial after the striker missed Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur through injury.
“As long as we’re going in the right direction and we get there, that day when we do is going to be a very good day.
“The size of our club, we’re going to have to bridge that gap and our aim is to go past the teams above us and I believe at United, that’s what we have to go for and that’s what we have to believe in. Because we do have the resources to do it, we do have the people to do it, so why not?”
Solskjaer waited almost five years to play in a Manchester derby as his arrival at Old Trafford in 1996 coincided with City dropping out of the top flight. He took a playful dig at his rivals by declaring: “At least we play every year now.”
And when asked if United were still the bigger club, Solskjaer replied with an emphatic “Yeah”, before admitting that to bridge the gulf to City it was imperative his club got their act together in the transfer market.
Solskjaer insisted that, under him, there would be no return to the “galactico” policy of signing experienced names for exorbitant fees, and that last summer’s purchases of Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire provided the blueprint of his plan to buy younger talent who can be developed into world-beaters.
“Don’t deviate from a plan that you have set out and believe in what we’re doing behind the scenes, believe in the players, believe in the coaching staff and, of course, believe that we’re going to add to this squad with some very good players through recruitment,” Solskjaer said when asked how United would close the gap.
“Do I look like I’m going to spend hundreds of millions on players we’re not sure of? What does it look like? We need to rebuild, we need to change the culture. You want the culture with that hunger and selflessness that most of these players are showing.
“We haven’t been able to have that consistency, but when you get those players in, I’m sure that gap is going to be closed.”
Pep Guardiola, the City manager, said that “if you’re looking at the trophy cabinet” down the decades, United “are better, no doubts about that” but that, during his reign, it was clear City have been superior and that he harbours no disappointment there has not really been a rivalry between the clubs.
“No, I prefer it,” he said. “Since we were here, we were better than them. Listen, for United fans, they’ll always be the biggest club. For the City fans, we’ll always be the biggest club.”
United have been far more effective on the counter-attack against the bigger clubs than sides who defend deep.
As well as Tottenham, United have beaten Chelsea and Leicester City this term and are the only side to avoid defeat against Liverpool. Solskjaer is hoping they can also hurt City.
“We might not want them to be scared of us, we might want them to be arrogant and confident, because you don’t have to shout the loudest to throw the sucker punch,” he said.