Manchester United must rediscover spark in derby – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Manchester
United
need to rediscover their spark if they are to stop relentless Premier
League leaders Manchester City extending their eye-watering advantage in
Sunday’s derby.

Having been knocked off top spot by Pep
Guardiola’s men on January 26, their fortunes have contrasted to such an extent
that the Red Devils sit 14 points behind their rivals heading to the Etihad
Stadium.

United’s title challenge has been all but
ended by winning just two of eight top-flight matches during that period, with
Wednesday’s lifeless 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace the latest frustrating result.

That underwhelming night did, though, see
their unbeaten away league streak extend to 21 matches – a run that will be
tested to the maximum by a City side who have won 21 successive games in all
competitions.

“I don’t worry. I can only control
what’s happening here at Man United and there’s so many differences between the
clubs,” Solskjaer said.

“If it’s the clubs you talk about, I
can sit here and talk about a lot.

“At the moment they’re the only team
ahead of us. Of course, we want to try and claw back points on them and get
closer to them.

“They’ve gone through a fantastic
spell at the moment, great form, 21 wins.

“We’ve had 21 away games in the league
unbeaten, so one record is going to be broken, so let’s see which one it
is.”

It is likely to be City celebrating on
derby day if United repeat their Selhurst Park performance given Solskjaer’s
side looked tired and failed to impose themselves.

“When you get the results that you
get, sometimes you tend to forget about the performances,” he said.

“Yeah, the West Brom game wasn’t the
best quality, but we felt there’s improvement to be made on that one.

“The Palace game, of course, if you
compare that to last year’s game against Palace, not very dissimilar.

“But we had two or three fantastic
moments. Marcus (Rashford) and Anthony (Martial), the two goals that they
scored in that game, that was the spark – really, really top-class football.

“In the Premier League when the
opposition don’t make mistakes, like Palace never did, you have to earn the
right with the quality and we just lacked a bit of that in the last few games.

“Still, we’ve gone 10 games unbeaten.
Three weeks, four weeks ago we couldn’t defend, then we were really well
attacking-wise – that’s the narrative anyway.

“Now the narrative is that we can’t
score a goal. It’s been a week without us scoring goals (due to three
successive 0-0 draws).

“It’s not long ago we played fantastic
football against Sociedad, got good goals against Newcastle, Southampton. It’s
sometimes margins, you know, in football.

“That little step back now, one day
extra recovery before this derby. Hopefully, we get our spark back.”

The City trip kicks off a big fortnight for
the Red Devils, who play their Europa League last-16 tie against AC Milan
either side of next weekend’s match with in-form West Ham before the FA Cup
quarter-final at Leicester.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward this
week said that “the progress made by Ole and the players this season is
clear” and Solskjaer believes they are going in the right direction,
albeit they are currently a “fair distance” behind City.

“Of course, you’d like to win every
game of football but if you compare to last season, the position we’re in,
we’re quite a bit higher up in the league at the same stage,” the United
boss said.

“We’re still in Europe and the FA Cup,
so it’s probably the league position you think ‘yep, that’s where we’ve shown
the progress’.

“Hopefully we can prove in the Europa
League and FA Cup that we’ve taken another further step for this team.

“The ambitions are there, of course,
and we have more experience to be in this position compared to last season.

“We’re gelling more as a team, they’re
fitter, but at the moment we’re just looking at the short-term and that’s
Sunday, and that’s to get back to creating chances, taking them and scoring
goals again.”

Dean Henderson will be between the sticks
on Sunday after David De Gea returned to Spain for the birth of his first
child.

Martial needs assessing and Donny Van De
Beek is a doubt, with Paul Pogba set to miss out again with a thigh injury.

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