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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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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With the memory of their Champions League classic still fresh, Spurs can dent City’s season further if they derail their title push at the Etihad.
Having knocked Pep Guardiola’s men out of Europe’s premier competition on Wednesday, Spurs can strengthen their hopes of making the top four with another win.
However, boss Mauricio Pochettino knows a change of mindset will be needed.
“The Premier League is different and we are fighting for different things,” he told his club’s official website.
“Manchester City are trying to win the Premier League and, for us, it’s so important to be in the top four for next season.”
With Liverpool having what appears on paper to be an easier run-in, City know that they can afford no slip-ups in a bid to defend their title.
There is considerable pressure on them as a result, but also on Spurs who, if they win, can put four points between themselves in third and Arsenal and Chelsea, who sit fourth and fifth and do not play until Sunday.
“We need to assess the players and need to be sure we are going there competing with fresh legs with the possibility to fight and challenge them again,” Pochettino added.
“That’s why we’re working so hard now to try to assess the players in the right way and try to mix players who can be competitive and have the possibility to win.”
To get the result he needs, after such a taxing night on Wednesday, the Argentinian admits he may have to field some fresh faces.
“City have an unbelievable squad, they can change and rotate the starting 11 and keep the same level on the pitch,” he said.
“With all the circumstances and some injuries, maybe we need to think about playing with younger players, not without experience, but with plenty of energy and keeping the same ideas – to be brave and try to compete.
“It’s going to be tough but we need to think about recovery and try to design the best strategy to try to be competitive.”
Each week, Sport360 will bring you tips for the English Premier League’s official fantasy football game. Fancy pitting your wits against us? You can join “Sport360 Fans League” using the code 2326997-532303.
Fantasy Premier League managers will be looking forward to Double Gameweek 35 and all the points it has to offer.
Of course at the tail end of the season, rotations are the biggest risks and trying to manage the team accordingly is no mean feat. If you get it right though, DGW35 could be very profitable indeed.
Eight teams play twice in this round with big-hitters Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United among them. Even though Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal feature just once, they enjoy attractive fixtures against Burnely, Cardiff City and Wolves respectively.
If you played your Wildcard chip in the previous round then now is the ideal time to use your Bench Boost and maximise your squad’s points.
CAPTAIN – RAUL JIMENEZ | WOLVES | 6.9M
Son Heung-min was our captain pick for GW34 and even though he was benched for Spurs’ clash against Huddersfield, he managed to come on and deliver a late assist.
This time, we’re turning to Raul Jimenez even though the Wolves striker disappointed with a single point away to Southampton last time out. That said, he has been a real threat at home and plays at the Molineux twice in this round.
Wolves host Brighton first, who have conceded 10 goals in their last three games, before Arsenal pay them a visit. In his last four home games, Jimenez has managed a double-figure haul three times, scoring three goals and providing three assists.
SADIO MANE (10.1m) isn’t exactly out-performing Mohamed Salah in terms of his underlying stats but he has been enjoying the better chances while his team-mate attempts shots from range. In terms of FPL points, Mane’s potential is starting to match the Egyptian’s. He has six goals in his last seven games and will be confident of striking again at struggling Cardiff City.
SERGIO AGUERO (11.7m) doesn’t have the most inviting fixtures but he’s chasing the Golden Boot and has usually delivered against top-six opposition. The Argentine has scored nine goals in 13 matches across competitions against United and 10 against Spurs in 14 league matches. The striker scores a goal every 116 minutes against top six sides.
ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE (5.9m) has emerged as an attacking force for Watford in recent weeks and has good fixtures away to Huddersfield and home to Southampton in this GW. With an ownership of just 3.2 per cent, the French midfielder is also a massive differential captain pick.
TWO TO WATCH
LUCAS MOURA | TOTTENHAM | 6.8M
After his hat-trick against Huddersfield, Lucas Moura has naturally forced his way into out thinking. It may feel like you’ve missed the gravy trained with the Brazilian but with Harry Kane out for the season, he is certain to get plenty of minutes on the pitch for the rest of the campaign. He plays twice in DGW35 and moving forward, boasts excellent fixtures as Spurs look to secure a top four spot.
NATHAN REDMOND | SOUTHAMPTON | 5.3M
With a brace against Wolves in GW34, Nathan Redmond delivered on the potential he’s been showing for much of the season. The Southampton attacker has been guilty of wastefulness in front of goal in the past but with a couple of goals and an assist in his last three, the Englishman has emerged as an option with the Saints travelling to Newcastle United and Watford in this round before facing Bournemouth and Huddersfield at home and West Ham away in the run-in.