‘It’s a different game this season’ – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes football is a “different game” this season as a mix of controversial rule changes and unprecedented circumstances throw up wild results.

A week after a Premier League-record 44 goals were scored across a single weekend, there was more drama as Leicester won 5-2 at Manchester City, Chelsea came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at West Brom, and United were awarded a penalty after the final whistle had sounded to win 3-2 at Brighton.

Debate has raged over changes to the handball rule which have seen several penalties awarded but Solskjaer said the effects of an off-season curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic was also being felt as games continue in empty stadiums.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United – Premier League – AMEX Stadium
Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United – Premier League – AMEX Stadium

“I think football has changed,” the United manager said. “There are no fans, it’s a different game. Pre-season we were at different stages, the new handball rule… you never know what’s going to happen.”

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho stormed down the tunnel after Newcastle were awarded a stoppage-time penalty for handball on Sunday, 24 hours after Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson fumed over the spot-kick given to Everton in the Toffees’ 2-1 win.

A week earlier, Palace got a penalty of their own at Old Trafford when another handball decision went against Victor Lindelof, and Solskjaer added his voice to those unhappy with the changes.

“You can discuss it all day long but we need some clarity on what’s a foul and what’s a penalty because now it looks like you can chip the ball up into someone’s hand – like what happened to us against Palace for example and Victor got a penalty against him.

“And then the header against Tottenham, he’s (Eric Dier) got no idea the ball hits him. You see the goals scored against West Brom at the end, is that not handball (by Kai Havertz in the build-up)? We need to get that clarity. It’s a whole spectrum of things that aren’t normal.”

Manchester United v Crystal Palace – Premier League – Old Trafford
Manchester United v Crystal Palace – Premier League – Old Trafford

United were more than a little fortunate to get their first three-point haul of the season at the weekend, with Brighton hitting the frame of the goal five times, levelling in stoppage time but then conceding a penalty for handball in the very last action of the game.

“You can look back at the performance, especially in the last 20-25 minutes when we didn’t really get hold of the ball and control the game when we were winning 2-1,” Solksjaer said.

“But then again it’s three points – the reaction after conceding was fantastic and there are some positives. We’ve got to be happy. I don’t think too many teams will have a comfortable ride down there.”

United will be back at the AMEX on Wednesday night for their fourth-round meeting with Brighton in the Carabao Cup, though Saturday’s match probably offers few pointers with both sides expected to make a raft of changes.

“You can see teams have a cup team and a league team and we’ll make changes,” Solskjaer said. “It’ll be very similar to what happened last week against Luton.”

Tranmere Rovers v Manchester United – FA Cup – Fourth Round – Prenton Park
Tranmere Rovers v Manchester United – FA Cup – Fourth Round – Prenton Park

Solskjaer made 10 changes for last week’s 3-0 win over Luton in the previous round, though two of United’s goals came late on from substitutes Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.

One player who will not be involved in Andreas Pereira, who is set to join Lazio on loan.

The 24-year-old made 40 appearances for United last season but found opportunities limited after the arrival of Bruno Fernandes.

The PA news agency understands a deal is close for Pereira to join Lazio for the rest of the season, with the Serie A club to pay his wages for the duration of the loan.