Solskjaer rules out title chase
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United are not thinking about chasing down Manchester City despite bringing the Premier League leaders’ sequence of 21 successive victories to a crashing halt with an impressive derby victory at Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s side still have what looks to be an unassailable 11-point lead at the top of the table, but the manner in which United subdued a previously unstoppable City and enhanced their own top-four chances will be a huge confidence boost to Solskjaer and his players.
United, who have now gone 22 league away games unbeaten – including 14 wins – stunned City with a fast start and were ahead after a penalty was awarded inside the first 30 seconds when Gabriel Jesus fouled the impressive Antony Martial.
Bruno Fernandes scored from the spot despite City keeper Ederson getting a strong hand on the ball, then United fashioned the win with a mixture of solid defence and constant menace on the break.
Rodri almost equalised just after the break when his shot glanced off the angle of post and bar, but United effectively sealed the win – condemning City to their first loss since a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on 21 November – when the outstanding Luke Shaw, who had earlier missed a chance to double United’s lead, led a counter-attack, exchanging passes with Marcus Rashford before beating Ederson with a low shot.
Solskjaer’s team, who had not scored in their previous three games, moved back into second place, a point ahead of Leicester City in the increasingly tight fight for a place in the top four.
“They [Manchester City] are so far ahead you can’t really think about anything but making sure we win our games and be better than last year,” Solskjaer told BBC Sport.
“We were third so we want to move up the table of course.”
United show their best side
United’s recent performances were greeted with frustration, particularly after they played out unambitious, goalless stalemates at Chelsea and Crystal Palace.
It cemented the impression that this was a very talented side that had arguably under-achieved this season.
This was the other face of United, the one they need to show more often if they are to find the sort of consistency that leads to serious title challenges.
They struck early to grab the initiative, then retained impressive composure and control even as City, inevitably, threatened to work their way back into contention.
And the symbol of what United could be perhaps came in the shape of Anthony Martial, so often inconsistent but outstanding here as they looked a constant threat on the break.
Martial missed a couple of second-half opportunities but fully deserved the applause he received from the United bench when he was replaced by Nemanja Matic late on.
Martial was not the only significant contributor. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson looked secure and confident as he kept another clean sheet, pressing his claims to be United’s number one with David de Gea away in Spain after the birth of his daughter.