Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits he does not believe Manchester United will be able to close the cavernous gap to Liverpool and neighbours City next season as he prepares for Wednesday’s crucial derby meeting.
Pep Guardiola takes his treble-chasing side to Old Trafford with United in disarray following a desultory 4-0 defeat at Everton on Sunday.
United are an astonishing 22 points behind their local rivals – and 24 behind league leaders Liverpool – despite Solskjaer opening his spell as caretaker manager with an unbeaten sequence in his first dozen league games.
‘It’s not nice’
And now, in the wake of a run of six defeats in eight, Solskjaer admits the pain of trailing his club’s two major local rivals does not look set to ease in the immediate future.
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“There’s loads of things that motivate players,” said Solskjaer. “For me, the motivation is towards something – to win something yourself. It’s not about taking something away from others. We have to want to overtake them, not because it’s City and Liverpool.
“But, of course, because it’s City and Liverpool, for a supporter as I am, and as a manager now as well, because they’re so close in the vicinity as well, we want to be the best.
“We have been the best, and it’s not nice seeing those two at the top.”
‘We don’t have conistency’
The United manager has spoken of the need for wholesale changes – and also for patience – ever since he took over from Jose Mourinho; a narrative that has increased since the Goodison Park debacle.
And that led Solskjaer to a damning analysis of his club’s current standing in English football when asked if he believed United could compete for the title next season.
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“I don’t think we’ve got the consistency to do that,” he said. “Over the last 18 games, we’re not far away from them but it’s doing it over the course of a season. We’ve done it for half a season now. Let’s see. You can never say never.
“You cannot expect things to happen overnight and we know that. It will happen gradually and we have to be realistic enough as a club that we have to take it step by step. That’s not changing 10 players now and bringing 10 players in. It’s slowly, slowly but surely.
“It has to be the right quality, right personality, the right standards to get us back to where we want to be.”
A meeting with a City side that has won 25 of its last 27 games in all competitions hardly promises to offer Solskjaer an easy chance for redemption after the Everton reverse.