European nights could boost our top-four rivals – Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested Manchester United’s top-four rivals may have an advantage by still being in European competitions.

United’s Champions League adventure was brought to an end by Barcelona in midweek but Tottenham progressed to the semi-finals, while Arsenal and Chelsea are in the last four of the Europa League.

The four English teams are jockeying for third and fourth in the Premier League and a place in next season’s Champions League, with only three points separating third-placed Spurs from United in sixth.

Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea face a more crowded fixture list in the closing weeks of the campaign because of their European exertions, but United boss Solskjaer does not feel that will hinder them.

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“It will probably give them a boost playing those games, that’s what you want as a player,” he said.

“We would have loved a semi-final to play in but that’s not the case. We’ve got to focus on the games we’ve got.”

United’s 3-0 humbling at the Nou Camp – bowing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage after a 4-0 aggregate defeat – was a fifth loss in their last seven matches in all competitions.

They have been beaten in three of five since Solskjaer was announced as the permanent manager following a very impressive interim spell, in which he revived their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next term.

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Despite their recent slump, Solskjaer insists there has not been a drop-off from his players.

He said: “I don’t think so, that’s football margins. Since I’ve come in we’ve lost two league games – against Wolves and Arsenal, those games we shouldn’t have talked about losing.

“Of course there are games where we won where we maybe didn’t deserve to, it evens itself out.

“Players now know what’s going to happen, they know what I expect, we know as a club what we’re looking to do.

  • Everton (a)
  • Manchester City (h)
  • Chelsea (h)
  • Huddersfield (a)
  • Cardiff (h)

“Look at where we were when we came in on December 19 and where we’re at now – I think anyone would have taken that in the squad and at the club. Now we’ve got five games to see if we can finish it off.”

United’s trip to Goodison Park to tackle Everton on Sunday kicks off a potentially pivotal eight-day period for United, who host the Manchester derby next Wednesday before welcoming Chelsea to Old Trafford.

Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic are in contention following recent spells on the sidelines while Ander Herrera is back in training ahead of the visit to Merseyside.

Midfielder Jesse Lingard knows Everton – battling to finish seventh to claim a potential Europa League spot – will present a difficult challenge.

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He said on United’s official website: “I think it will be a tough game. Both teams are fighting for something for the end of the season. It’s just as important for them as it is for us, so we’ll need to be on top form.

“We know what’s on the line and what’s there to be had. Top four is massive, to obviously play in the Champions League next season. It’s a massive competition and United always deserve to be in there.

“Defeats (like the Barcelona one) can tend to linger but we know we have a big week ahead so Ole has tried to take our minds off it and concentrate on Everton, (Manchester) City and Chelsea. They are the three big games that we need to win.

”We’ve got to be at 100 per cent in every game with the mindset to win and get three points, which is the most important thing.”

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