Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bemoans fixture scheduling ahead of Manchester derby
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s determination to beat Manchester City is as clear as his frustration over the Football Association’s scheduling that saw Manchester United play their FA Cup tie 24 hours after their rivals.
United cruised through to the quarter-finals at Derby on Thursday evening, when Luke Shaw’s second career goal and a brace from January signing Odion Ighalo wrapped up a 3-0 win.
It was as comfortable as United could have hoped for in the end at Pride Park, where Solskjaer expressed his annoyance at the way his side’s preparations have been impeded by the scheduling of the fifth-round tie.
Europa League football has meant the Red Devils are well used to playing on Thursdays, but City have an extra day to prepare for Sunday’s Old Trafford encounter after facing Sheffield Wednesday the previous evening.
“It’s that help we get from the FA again – that extra 24 hours that they’ve had,” Solskjaer said.
“I cannot believe why there’s a derby on Sunday and we’ve got to play Thursday night. What’s the point in that? That doesn’t level the playing field.”
City also had an extra day ahead of December’s derby at the Etihad Stadium, although Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial scored in a shock 2-1 win for United.
The United boss added: “It was the same when we beat them last time to be fair, we played Wednesday and they played Tuesday.
“Those 24 hours are important, so we’ve got to be good at recovering now.”
Solskjaer aired a similar grievance about the Premier League after winning at Chelsea last month on a Monday evening, saying he could not understand why they did not play on the Saturday following the winter break.
Asked if he had complained about the scheduling this time, the Norwegian said: “No, I’ve not. I don’t think we can. It’s one of those where you get told when you’re going to play, so we’ve not got any help before this one.”
United may have less rest but they go into the derby with some momentum, having set up an FA Cup quarter-final with Norwich and taken their unbeaten run to nine matches in all competitions.
That consistency has been lacking this season but Solskjaer has often got his side to rise to the big occasions, including December’s Premier League win at the Etihad Stadium and a 1-0 triumph there the following month in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
But that second leg victory was not enough to make up for the 3-1 loss inflicted by Pep Guardiola’s men at Old Trafford, where a meek start proved their undoing – something Solskjaer knows cannot be repeated.
“When you’re at home and you have to open up against a team like Man City, they will exploit that if you’re not 100 per cent,” the United boss said.
“Sometimes being at home with your fans, you want to show them what you can do and beat your opponent, and sometimes you open too many spaces.
“That’s what we did for those 10-15 minutes or 20 minutes after they scored a worldie.
“Before then, it wasn’t a problem, before Bernardo (Silva) scored in the top corner.
“It wasn’t an issue until our heads went for a little while, so we’ve got to control our emotions more.
“And we have, we have learned, so that’s an experience we’ll bring into this game definitely.”
United head into the match against the Carabao Cup winners without star names Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, while question marks remain over the availability of others for the Manchester derby.
Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka need assessing having yet to train this week due to unspecified knocks, as does Harry Maguire after rolling his ankle in training and missing out against Derby – the day of his 27th birthday.
“Well it’s touch and go because he rolled his ankle and he twisted his ankle but hopefully he’ll recover quickly,” Solskjaer said.
“I wasn’t going to rest him today so I didn’t give him a day off birthday-wise but I hope he’ll be fit.”