EPL

Premier League title race will be 'so tight', predicts Man Utd boss Solskjaer

By Sports Desk January 01, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes this season's Premier League title race will be "so tight”, though he is not getting carried away after Manchester United moved level with Liverpool at the top. 

United defeated Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford on Friday, remaining second behind the defending champions only due to their inferior goal difference. 

It was a 10th straight league match without defeat for Solskjaer's side, who seized the opportunity presented to them by Liverpool's goalless draw at Newcastle United on Wednesday. 

Liverpool can pull clear again at Southampton on Monday, with United's game in hand against Burnley to come later in January, but Solskjaer is expecting plenty more twists and turns before the campaign is out. 

"We've improved, we're getting better," the manager told Sky Sports. "The league – and the season – is going to be so tight. 

"There are going to be different and difficult games, strange results, we've just got to keep working and improving as a team. 

"Since Project Restart [late last season], we've been a very consistent team. 

"Every time you win a game, you take one step further. It's three points in total, you've just got to accumulate them. 

"The first game is just as important as the last game of the season - they all count the same." 

With Anthony Martial's opener cancelled out by Bertrand Traore, it again fell to Bruno Fernandes to hit the winner from the penalty spot against Villa, who are winless in 16 league meetings with United.

The Red Devils have lost just three of their 30 league matches since the 2020 signing of Fernandes, who has been involved in 33 goals in this time (19 goals, 14 assists). 

In Premier League history, only Andrew Cole (37 involvements - 28 goals, nine assists) has had a greater impact from his first 30 games in the competition. 

But United were clinging on in the closing stages, with Eric Bailly - who made a game-high six clearances - lunging into a vital stoppage-time block in front of goal, to leave Solskjaer a little concerned about his team's inability to close out games when ahead. 

"To be fair, I didn't enjoy the last 10 minutes that much – we should have seen the game out in a better way," he said, having seen United finish with just 48.9 per cent of the possession. 

"It seemed like it was a cup final, or the last game of the season. We need to learn how to play out games better when we're in the lead. We've shown that when we're chasing a goal, we're capable of doing that. 

"We created chances. It was always going to be a physical game. We knew that they'd improved massively, and they gave us some challenges. 

"There were a few times in that box when you were a bit worried. We didn't stop the crosses well enough, because when they put crosses in, they were always dangerous. 

"But we made some fantastic blocks, some saves, so I'm delighted with the three points."

Related items

  • Rooney turned down Everton approach to focus on Derby County survival bid Rooney turned down Everton approach to focus on Derby County survival bid

    Wayne Rooney turned down an interview for the manager job at Everton in order to commit to Derby County's bid for Championship survival.

    The former Manchester United and England captain said there was an approach from his boyhood club to his agent asking if he would discuss the prospect of taking over at Goodison Park.

    The Toffees, who sacked Rafael Benitez after just over six months in charge two weeks ago, have yet to appoint a permanent successor.

    Although Rooney is convinced he will manage in the Premier League in future, he took the "difficult decision" to decline talks with Everton as he wants to see through Derby's attempt to avoid relegation to the third tier.

    "Everton approached my agent and asked me to interview for the vacant job, which I turned down," he said on Friday.

    "They got in touch with my agent, my agent let the administrators know as well, and yes of course it was a difficult decision for me [to turn it down].

    "I believe I will be a Premier League manager. I believe I'm ready for that, 100 per cent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great. But I've got a job here that I'm doing at Derby County, which is an important job to me."

    Rooney, who progressed through Everton's academy and rejoined the club in 2017 after 15 years at United, initially took on a player-coach role at Derby after Phillip Cocu was sacked in November 2020, with the club bottom of the Championship. He retired from playing to take on the permanent manager job in January last year and steered them to survival on the final day of the season.

    Derby were hit with a 21-point deduction for 2021-22 after going into administration and admitting a breach of English Football League accounting rules, but while the future of the club remains uncertain, Rooney has overseen an almost miraculous battle against relegation, with eight wins and 11 draws from 27 matches leaving them a relatively modest eight points from safety.

    Everton dismissed Benitez following a defeat to Norwich City left them six points above the Premier League drop zone. According to reports, their final three candidates are caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson, former Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard and ex-Porto and Fenerbahce boss Vitor Pereira.
  • Stafford insists Rams do not have mental block against 49ers Stafford insists Rams do not have mental block against 49ers

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford insists his teammates do not have a mental block when it comes to beating the San Francisco 49ers.

    The two teams will do battle on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, with the winners to face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

    Stafford, who had never previously won a playoff game in the NFL, has led the Rams to victories over the Arizona Cardinals and defending champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reach this stage.

    The Rams finished ahead of the Cardinals and the 49ers to win the NFC West this season and go into the game at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl - as narrow favourites.

    But that status comes despite the Rams having struggled against their divisional rivals in recent seasons. The Niners have won the last six meetings, including both of the regular season clashes in 2021.

    In Week 18, the Rams led 17-0 before the Niners stormed back to win 27-24 in overtime and book their place in the playoffs as a wildcard team.

    Stafford has only played in the two most recent games in the six-game streak but was asked if his teammates had a mental block against San Francisco.

    "No, we just have got to go out there and play good football," he said.

    "We had our chances last time we played them to win the game, whether it was a four-minute situation for us on offense, a two-minute situation on defense and we still had a shot in overtime as well. 

    "It's a really good football team. It's two really good football teams going after each other, seen each other twice this year, we’re going to see each other for a third time. 

    "Not a bunch of secrets. Just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them."

    Stafford has found the build-up to the NFC Championship Game more normal than for the Rams' previous two postseason clashes.

    "Obviously excited about the opportunity, but going about it kind of as a normal week - it’s the first normal week we've had in a little bit," said the former Detroit Lions QB.

    "We played the first playoff game on a Monday and the second one on a short week, so this one just feels like a normal week during the season.

    "Obviously a lot at stake. We know that we’re playing a really good opponent that's playing as good a football as anybody in the NFL right now. So it'll be a big challenge for us."

    Rams head coach Sean McVay was this week forced to deny Niners boss Kyle Shanahan – who worked with him in Washington - was in his head.

    "No," insisted McVay. "What I do have is respect for these guys. They've done a great job. 

    "You look at it, you got to play well in that three-and-a-half-hour window that we're allotted. You look at the last time that we played them, we didn't finish the game. 

    "This is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We're competing and preparing to the best of our ability to go out and see if we can advance. 

    "But this is a really good team. Kyle is an excellent coach. They have great players, great coaches, good schemes. It's why they're in the NFC Championship."

    Shanahan, meanwhile, felt McVay should not have been asked the question.

    Asked if he enjoyed the narrative, the Niners coach replied: "Not really. I think that's kind of silly. A question like that is giving Sean and myself way too much credit.

    "We're coaches. Watch what's going on out on that field and some of the players out there and the people that are competing.

    "To think that it's about Sean and I... I know that he doesn't feel that way and he knows that I don't feel that way.

    "The entertainment of this business is cool and stuff, because it brings a lot of fans and makes a lot of money for everybody, but I think that's pretty ridiculous. I don't give coaches that much credit."

    Getting wide receiver Cooper Kupp involved is likely to be key for the Rams after he became the first player to win the NFL receiving triple crown since 2005 this season. 

    He followed that achievement by putting up 183 receiving yards against Tampa Bay, which was second-most in a playoff game in Rams history behind Tom Fears in the 1950 Divisional Round (198). 

    Per Stats Perform data, the Rams have never lost a game, regular or postseason, when Kupp has at least 125 receiving yards (9-0).

  • Man City defender Walker hit with three-match UEFA ban Man City defender Walker hit with three-match UEFA ban

    Kyle Walker has been hit with a three-match ban by UEFA following his red card in Manchester City's loss to RB Leipzig last month.

    The England full-back was dismissed for a crude hack on Andre Silva late in a game that City went on to lose 2-1.

    Pep Guardiola's side had already qualified for the round of 16, but will now be without Walker for both legs against Sporting CP.

    UEFA confirmed the sanction in a statement on Friday, with Walker's actions described as an "assault".

    The 31-year-old will also miss the first leg of the quarter-finals, should City progress to that stage.

    Walker became the second-oldest Englishman to be sent off in a Champions League game, after Paul Scholes for Manchester United against Roma in April 2007 (32 years, 139 days).


     

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.