SINGAPORE — Manchester City and Liverpool will not run away with the English Premier League title challenge like they did last season, said Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday (19 July).
The Norwegian feels that the two rival clubs will not be able to replicate their outstanding consistency in the 2018/19 season. During the season, Man City amassed 98 points while Liverpool had 97 points, way ahead of third-placed Chelsea with 72 points.
“It’s not likely to happen again. I think we will see a closer race with the other teams, maybe have one or two more teams coming into contention,” Solskjaer said during United’s official media conference at the International Champions Cup (ICC).
He also took charge of the subsequent training session on the National Stadium pitch, as Man United fans thronged the stands in eager anticipation of seeing their favourite players and hopefully get an autograph or two.
A few lucky fans also got a chance for a meet-and-greet session with former Red Devil Wes Brown, courtesy of Chivas Regal Singapore.
Focus is on improving ourselves: Solskjaer
Will Man United be among the title contenders? Solskjaer stopped short of saying so.
“First things first, we must improve,” he said. “You can say that we want to get one of the Champions League spots, and then we will see.
“But we have to focus on no one but ourselves, how we must do better than last season. If everyone has that focus to improve, then I’m confident we’ll be better than last season.”
The last Premier League season, particularly the final two months, left a bitter taste among the United fans.
After the mid-season upheaval which saw their previous manager Jose Mourinho sacked and Solskjaer appointed interim manager, the Red Devils went on a tear with a 12-match unbeaten run to bring a fresh wave of optimism among fans that they could return to their glory days soon.
However, once Solskjaer became the permanent manager on 28 March, he won only once more in his final seven games, as United slumped to a sixth-place finish, unable to qualify for this season’s Champions League competition.
It is a dismal run which the manager has no intention of continuing into the new season. In fact, he believes that the opening eight to 10 matches will be crucial to United’s fortunes next season.
“You can’t win trophies in the first eight to 10 matches of a season, but you can definitely lose chances to win things. So the start of the next season is vital,” the former United striker said.
Some United players need to contribute more
United began their pre-season in Perth, Australia, winning both their games against Perth Glory (2-0) and Leeds United (4-0). In both matches, Solskjaer changed the entire starting XI after half-time, giving chances for the club’s youngsters to shine.
While he indicated he will extend playing time for some of the regulars in their ICC match against Inter Milan on Saturday, he is more concerned that several first-team players need to shake off last season’s poor form and start contribute more – players such as Brazilian midfielder Fred and French forward Anthony Martial.
“Fred needed time to adapt to the English game, having played most of his career in Ukraine. He’s back after getting married in Brazil, hopefully he’ll be recharged and ready to go,” he said.
“As for Anthony, he started his Man United career in great form. Then in the last couple of seasons, maybe he was not as good as his first season in terms of scoring goals. But the way he has come back for pre-season, his attitude was spot-on, so I expect him to find the mark this season.”