Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was non-committal when asked about Manchester United‘s desire after admitting their 4-0 hammering at Everton was “difficult to describe because it is so bad.”
Solskjaer underlined his ambition to be successful at United and revealed some members of his side would be cast adrift in pursuit of re-establishing the club as contenders on domestic and European fronts.
For the time being, this was a sixth defeat in their last eight matches as goals from Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott handed Everton a convincing and deserved win.
Solskjaer said: “We have got to apologise to the fans because they were absolutely fantastic and that performance is not good enough for a Man United team.
“All the way from me to the players, we know that we let the fans down, we let the club down. That performance is difficult to describe because it is so bad.
“We were beaten on all the things, all the ingredients you need, added to the talent. There is no place you can hide on the pitch.”
Asked whether his players were hurting after a heavy loss, which keeps them sixth in the Premier League, Solskjaer responded: “I don’t know.
“You have got to ask them. I have asked them, you’re not going to get the answer from me.”
💭 - What's going through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's mind here? 👀 pic.twitter.com/qeXal2COTR— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 21, 2019
However, he has demanded an improvement in their effort levels, harking back to his own playing days under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Norwegian added: “If you want to play at this club, it has to mean more. I want my team to be the hardest working team in the league, that is what we were under Sir Alex, that’s what we’ve always been.
“No matter how much talent you have got, you run more than anyone. We know our fitness is nowhere near good enough.
“But we have to stick together as a team. You can’t change your whole squad. One step at a time. I am going to be successful here and there are players who won’t be part of that successful team but many of these do have it.”
United’s hopes of a top-four finish have been dented but Solskjaer insists now is not the time to dwell on the setback, with Manchester City and Chelsea their opponents at Old Trafford next week.
Solskjaer said: “City on the other side at Old Trafford on Wednesday, that is the biggest incentive that we can have.
“It sounds too easy to say we have to look forward but we cannot dwell too much on this. In the long term we have to look at this but in the short term we have to look at City and Chelsea.”
Everton bounced back from defeat to Fulham last time out in scintillating style, to the understandable delight of manager Marco Silva.
He said: “It was a very good performance. We were the best team on the pitch since the first minute.
“We never gave them the chance to feel comfortable. We gave a quiet afternoon for our goalkeeper. We worked as a team since the first minute and scored nice goals also.”
The only low moment for Everton came early in the second half when Richarlison was withdrawn, the Brazilian clutching his left side as he limped off to be replaced by Walcott.
Silva added: “Let’s see how he will be. I didn’t speak with our medical staff. Painful in this moment.
“Tomorrow, in two days, we will know better. Hope nothing special but when Richarlison has to be out of one match, it is a really difficult position.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hailed Paul Pogba’s versatility as questions remain about what role brings the best out of the mercurial Frenchman.
Pogba has been dogged by criticism that he needs specific players around him to unlock his best qualities, rather than being able to dominate a midfield on his own.
Since making Pogba their club-record signing in 2016, United have spent over £80million recruiting first Nemanja Matic and then Fred as players who could control games and allow Pogba the freedom to play his best.
But the 26-year-old, who won the World Cup last year playing in a two-man midfield alongside N’Golo Kante having previously said his best position is on the left of a midfield three, still struggles to produce his best on a consistent basis.
He is in the midst of his most productive club season, with 16 goals and 10 assists, and Solskjaer says Pogba’s ability to play in different systems is a huge asset.
“Everyone has got an opinion on Paul,” said Solskjaer, as reported by Goal. “And of course, together with Paul, we have sat down and discussed his positioning.
“We know he can play as a ten or a six, we know he can play in probably his preferred position as one of the three in midfield — high, like he did for us at the beginning, like he has done with Juventus.
“With France he has played as one of the two sitters, or one of the two central midfielders with N’Golo Kante.
“So that is the great thing with Paul. He can do both and what we have to do with all the players is adjust to the games, what that game needs.
“Some games have needed Paul to drop back, sometimes it has needed him high up the field.
“You can see teams now thinking more about what Paul’s position is and trying to stop him in that position. He is no different to others in that we tweak his position a little bit for the team’s benefit.”
Everton are fighting for seventh place, making this a crucial fixture for both teams.
Here are some talking points for Sunday’s game:
MARTIAL, LUKAKU HAVE POINTS TO PROVE
Solskjaer was unequivocal about the challenge ahead to build a team that could compete with Barcelona rather than be humbled by them, and in the aftermath of the midweek quarter-final elimination he said several players needed a reality check about their performances for United.
He was asked specifically about Anthony Martial, and confirmed he had spoken to the Frenchman. Though the mercurial winger has shown signs of improvement this season, he’s also blown hot and cold, and not looked at his best recently.
The 23-year-old definitely has a point to prove.
And what about Romelu Lukaku? He left Everton in 2017 to take the next step in his career and compete for trophies.
Two years later, he faces his former club having won nothing. There’s talk of a summer exit.
But on current form, would clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris Saint-Germain – reported destinations for the Belgian – really want him?
Anthony Martial has 5 goals and 2 assists in the last 6 games he has played against Everton he is their kryptonite nearly every time they play against each other. Our attackers need to step up on Sunday. It’s time to regain our form back. Come on United❤️pic.twitter.com/j0SA5zDbXu— Tяυsτ №¹-Yahya™ (@RealistYahz) April 19, 2019
THE UNITED WAY AKA WHERE IS MASON GREENWOOD?
While it didn’t come up in his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer has quickly become famous for his utterances on “the United way” or “United DNA” or “this is Manchester United”.
And yet, a central tenet of United’s identity is the promotion of youth, and while Solskjaer started promisingly on that front in recent weeks he seems to have forgotten his philosophy. With Martial, Lukaku, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford all struggling for goals, Mason Greenwood would have been forgiven for thinking he deserved more opportunities.
He has come on three times when United were chasing a late goal, and the first two were marquee games – PSG and Arsenal away. But last weekend’s appearance against West Ham was his first in a month, and he wasn’t part of the traveling squad for Barcelona.
The 17-year-old is in terrific form for the reserves. Will he get more than a cameo on Sunday?
Mason Greenwood across all youth levels this season:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 20, 2019
⭐️ 28 appearances
⚽️ 29 goals
🅰️ 12 assists
Special. 🙌🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/EtwTWLq9NX
WHICH EVERTON WILL TURN UP?
It’s hard to know what to make of Everton this season.
At home, they’ve beaten Chelsea and Arsenal, drawn with Liverpool, and played creditably in a loss against champions Man City – a game they probably didn’t mind losing anyway, as the result hurt Merseyside rival Liverpool’s title chances. They’ve also lost 6-2 to Tottenham.
In their last five matches they’ve had those home wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as West Ham, direct rivals for seventh place, away, but also lost away to Newcastle – in a game they led 2-0 – and already-relegated Fulham.
So which Everton are turning up on Sunday? They acquitted themselves well in October’s 2-1 loss to United, and of course, Solskjaer’s side themselves are no guarantee of high-quality performance, especially with that defence against quality attackers like Richarlison and Bernard.
Can the Toffees claim another top-six scalp, or will the Goodison Park faithful go home disappointed?