Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes his strong bond with Paul Pogba means the Frenchman is fully committed to Manchester United – despite links to Real Madrid surfacing in the last couple of weeks.
The talismanic midfielder’s future at Old Trafford had come under scrutiny when Jose Mourinho was at the helm but speculation has quietened since Solskjaer succeeded the Portuguese in Becember.
Pogba, though, recently remarked while on international duty that Real are a “dream” club and those comments did not go unnoticed at the La Liga giants, whose head coach Zinedine Zidane revealed that he liked his compatriot “a lot” over the weekend.
However, Solskjaer has spoken to Pogba about the issue and is convinced the 26-year-old World Cup winner has a major role going forward at United.
Asked whether Zidane had irked him by speaking about Pogba, the United manager replied: “It doesn’t really concern me because my thought of action then is to sit down and speak to Paul. I’ve had my chat with Paul and we’re fine.
“He’s going to do his utmost here because he knows that I’m very fond of him as a player and a person and he’s important for us here. It’s no issue. He’s happy here.”
Transfers are a hot topic as the season comes to a close, especially with Solskjaer now confirmed as United manager.
The Norwegian’s fine caretaker spell meant they did not have to go through the process of finding Mourinho’s permanent successor, but work remains under way to appoint a technical director.
Press Association Sport understands that the Portuguese was against appointing anyone in a director of football role during his tenure, but Solskjaer is clearly open to it and will have an input in the appointment.
“I’ve got an input in most of the things now and my advice,” Solskjaer said when asked about filling this role.
“I’ve got a say and the communication between me and Ed (Woodward, executive vice-chairman) and the owners is very good.
“We discussed different names. I’m not the one who decides.”
United are understood to have decided for a technical director rather than the director of football or sporting director title, with that position set to be filled before the start of next season.
A number of individuals have been spoken to as the club look for the right fit, with the role taking in the first-team set-up and a longer-term view incorporating the academy pathways.
Solskjaer has overseen 15 wins in 20 matches during his time in charge of United, reviving their hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four.
He suspects his side will require a further 15 points from their seven remaining matches to clinch a spot in next season’s Champions League.
Solskjaer said: “They want to be in the Champions League, they want to perform as well as they possibly can. Maybe they didn’t believe it themselves in November or December last year that we were in with a chance.
“I think everyone now knows that if we do our jobs – say 15 points in the last seven games – we’ll be in the Champions League next year.”
Unai Emery insists Arsenal’s biggest challenge in the race for the Premier League top four is still to come after his side moved up to third with a 2-0 win over Newcastle.
Goals from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette gave the Gunners a 10th league home win on the bounce and moved them above bitter rivals Tottenham for the first time this season.
Just three points separate the Gunners, Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea as the battle for the Champions League spots looks like going down to the wire.
Emery’s men have timed their run of impressive form well heading into the final part of the season, but with five of their remaining seven games away from home, the Gunners boss is not expecting it to be easy.
“Our target is very clear,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult but step-by-step we’ve started to rise up the table after the first two matches in the Premier League when we lost against Manchester City and Chelsea.
“We are improving and now we are third. But we know it is going to be difficult for us because our opposition is big opposition and it is going to be very tough for us.
“We need to convince people that we can be consistent away.
“The opposition is going to demand us to get a lot of points at the end of the season and I am only going to think of the next match.
“Our challenge is away because we are going to play five matches away in the last seven matches.
“Our challenge is to be as consistent away as we are at home.”
The Gunners’ ascent up the table has been rapid, as they were 10 points behind Spurs a matter of weeks ago.
Emery put’s the rise down to finding some consistency.
“We were playing some key matches, against Manchester United, against Tottenham, against Chelsea,” he said.
“And we had these opportunities and we won. We drew against Tottenham, but we were being consistent in winning more matches to be closer to them. Now is the consequence.
“Today, being consistent and also taking a big performance. But with big spirit, I think we did that.
“Today, for me, is an important victory and it’s important to take this confidence and this position on the table.
“But I know Sunday is a big challenge and a very good challenge because each match is so hard in the Premier League.”
The three points were never really in doubt against the lowly Magpies and Ramsey stroked them ahead with a nice finish on the half-hour.
The game was not won until the 83rd minute when Lacazette finished Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s flick-on with a brilliant lob.
Ramsey had left the pitch by then with cramp, which Emery said is not serious.
Newcastle remain seven points clear of the bottom three.
Magpies manager Rafael Benitez said: “I am disappointed because we knew it would be difficult, we knew we could lose.
“But if we concede the first goal the way we concede the first goal was not ideal and if you don’t take your chances and you are not precise against these teams then you’ll struggle.
“I am proud of the players because they are trying hard. Today there was a big difference between the teams, but we were close enough to be a threat.
“When it was 1-0 we were pushing and you could feel the nerves in the stadium.”
Sadio Mane believes Liverpool need to win all six of their remaining games to have a chance of lifting the Premier League title.
Jurgen Klopp’s men moved two points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table after beating Tottenham 2-1 on Sunday, with Toby Alderweireld’s last-gasp own goal deciding the clash at Anfield.
However, with City still having a game in hand, the destiny of the title remains in the hands of the reigning champions and Liverpool could yet fall agonisingly short in a remarkable season in which they have lost only once so far.
Mane admits there is no margin for error now, saying: “To be honest I think we need to win all of the games, even if it will not be easy.
“But we still can win every game because we are a good team and we play very well.”
Liverpool’s clincher against Spurs was the third time this season the Reds have scored a winner in the 90th minute or later, and it came after the ball deflected in off Alderweireld following a Hugo Lloris error.
Asked whether it felt like fate was playing a role in Liverpool’s quest to win a first title since 1990, Mane added: “To be honest I don’t know because we have a few more games to go. But it’s a good sign.
“That’s what makes you more motivated and makes everyone say ‘Let’s go, we can do it’ so I think it’s always important.
“This is a very good sign and I think everything is possible so let’s do it and win it.”
Mane may not have found the net against Tottenham but he has scored 13 goals in his last 18 matches for Liverpool, having netted just three in his 17 games before this current run.
The Senegal international has taken the burden off team-mate Mohamed Salah, whose eight-game goalless run is by far the worst of his short Liverpool career.
“That’s football; sometimes you score, sometimes not. It can happen,” Mane said.
“But we don’t forget that it’s all about the team. When the team is winning, that’s more important.”