Solskjaer adamant Man United have 'developed a lot' since three 2019-20 semi defeats

By Sports Desk January 05, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is convinced Manchester United have developed significantly since suffering three semi-final defeats in 2019-20 as they prepare to host rivals Manchester City in the last four of the EFL Cup.

Had things gone a little differently last term, Man United might have ended the campaign with three trophy successes, breaking Solskjaer's duck as the club's boss.

But, United lost 3-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup semis, suffered a late 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League and fell at the same stage of the EFL Cup to City, losing 3-2 on aggregate.

The elimination by City was particularly chastening given the manner of the first-leg home loss, as United were swept aside and somewhat fortunate to only lose 3-1 – the 1-0 away win in the second meeting was insufficient to save their hopes.

But it could be argued there is a different aura to this United side. They are level on 33 points with pacesetters Liverpool in the Premier League but have played one game less, and they head into Wednesday's game unbeaten in seven across all competitions.

The EFL Cup semi-finals this season are limited to one-game affairs rather than being split over two, and Solskjaer is adamant United are a different animal.

"When you get to a semi, you've done a lot of good work to get there and naturally you're playing against better and better opposition," Solskjaer told reporters.

"I think we've improved immensely in a year since the last semi [against City] and even when we were in Europe in August.

"For me, it's a step closer to get to the final, we've developed a lot, it's easy to say, 'have we learned?' But it's not about if we've learnt, it's about some fine margins in those semi-finals as well.

"When you win games of football, you don't think about it's a semi-final or a normal game or a league game or a quarter final, you just think about this game and want to win it."

United have faced City six times since Solskjaer was initially installed as Jose Mourinho's replacement in December 2018 and, perhaps rather surprisingly, has the edge over Pep Guardiola in their head-to-head with three wins to two.

Their most recent meeting, just under a month ago, was a rather cagier 0-0 draw that had few conclusions drawn from it by most, though Solskjaer still felt there were signs of United's progression.

They have every reason to be wary again, however – City have progressed from their previous five EFL Cup semis and lost only twice in 23 games in the competition under Guardiola.

"I've seen progress," Solskjaer continued. "Sometimes the results don't show the whole picture of the game, some of our counter-attacking goals in the wins we've had have been brilliant; in the league away when we won, we could have scored four or five in a 10- or 15-minute period.

"A few counter attacks there were out of this world but we had less control of the ball and defended fantastically. I think the last game was more or less 50-50 in possession, maybe a more cagey game from both teams but still I felt that was a progression having stayed more in the game.

"You never know what kind of system he [Guardiola] is going to come up with but you know you've got to defend really well against Man City.

"It's hard to keep the ball in their half, they find a way of overloading, so you've got to be brave, compact, trust your players.

"When we have the ball, we have to be able to keep it, play out of their press because they're one of the quickest to put the counter pressure on and win the ball high up.

"So, it's a balance. We've found that balance. We didn't have the 'X factor' last game, maybe because they were a little bit more cagey and set up to counter attack more as well.

"They've been some fascinating games and I feel we've got closer and closer and results sometimes you can't control."

Related items

  • Digne wants to take Everton to Champions League after signing new contract Digne wants to take Everton to Champions League after signing new contract

    Everton have announced star defender Lucas Digne has signed a new four-year contract.

    The new deal sees the 27-year-old commit to spending the prime of his career at Goodison Park following stints at LaLiga outfit Barcelona, Ligue 1 clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Lille, and a season-long loan at Roma in Serie A.

    During his nearly three seasons on Merseyside, the set-piece specialist has quickly become a key component of the Toffees defensive unit, and their attack, playing 97 games in all competitions.

    Digne has recorded six assists in 16 league games this season, one short of his total in 35 matches from 2019-20, while he claimed four goals and four assists in his debut 2018-19 Premier League campaign.

    The France international has expressed his desire to help lead Carlo Ancelotti's side into the Champions League during his time at the club.

    "In the national team, the competition in my position, and every position, is really strong and I have to play at the best level,” Digne told evertontv, after inking a contract until 2025.

    "I play in the best league and I want to play in the best cup in Europe [Champions League], for sure.

    "And I want to do that with Everton."

    Only Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have most assists than Digne (17) of full-backs since he arrived in the Premier League.

    Digne has created the second most chances (166) out of Premier League full-backs in the same period, behind Alexander-Arnold, while he has put in the third most open-play crosses (400).

    He added: "We have a big project with the club and can reach something very good at the end of this season and for the next few years.

    "I have seen the progress every year since joining the club, we are building a strong team.

    "When you sign for Everton, it is like an amazing wedding.

    "You just have to do your best every day to show Evertonians the love you have for them. That is what I do.

    "I want to show them what they give me and it is just amazing.

    "It was clear in my mind that I want to continue with Everton."

  • Zidane knows Madrid 'didn't play well' in win over Atalanta Zidane knows Madrid 'didn't play well' in win over Atalanta

    Zinedine Zidane accepted injury-hit Real Madrid did not do themselves justice against 10-man Atalanta but was content to come away with a 1-0 Champions League advantage.

    Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler was sent off for a professional foul on Ferland Mendy only 17 minutes into the first leg of the round of 16 tie at Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday.

    Lacklustre Madrid dominated possession but had just three shots on target in a drab encounter until Mendy scored his first European goal to win it four minutes from time.

    A depleted Los Blancos side, who have the likes of Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard on a long list of absentees, lacked ideas and looked set to fire a blank prior to Mendy's sweetly struck late away goal.

    Zidane knows Madrid's fifth consecutive win was not pretty, but he was relieved to take the upper hand heading into the second leg at home on March 16.

    The Madrid head coach said: "We didn't play a great game tonight, but I think the most important thing is the result.

    "In the end, scoring is what is important to us. We still have to play the second leg, but it's a good result."

    The former France midfielder added: "We played against a very physically strong team. Defensively they were good and it's a good result.

    "There are many casualties, but we continue with what we are doing well. The players who are here are committed."

    Zidane praised Isco, who made only his fifth start of the season - and his first in the Champions League - in a more advanced role with Benzema still sidelined.

    "It has been a long time since he played so many minutes and he has done very well in a position that is not his," said Zidane.

    "He has played a great game, we know what he can give us and he has done very well. When he plays he gives everything on the field. It's a victory and he's done a great job for over an hour."

  • Ruben Dias giving Bernardo Silva a head for heights Ruben Dias giving Bernardo Silva a head for heights

    Bernardo Silva revealed a personal competition between himself and Manchester City team-mate Ruben Dias helped to inspire his opening goal in Tuesday's 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

    Silva headed City into a 29th-minute lead in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Budapest before nodding down for Gabriel Jesus to score midway through the second half.

    It was the diminutive playmaker's 35th goal for City in all competitions and, perhaps a little surprisingly, his third with his head.

    Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Silva explained he and Portugal team-mate Ruben Dias – a centre-back certainly more adept in the air but yet to open his account for City – are competing to see who can score the most headers this season.

    "Usually I'm not [good at scoring headers]. I try to practice a lot – especially now with Ruben," he said.

    "We make a little competition to see who scores the most goals with the head.

    "I think I was lucky that Joao [Cancelo] gave me a great ball and, yes, I'm happy to have scored and helped the team."

    Speaking at a news conference after the game, boss Pep Guardiola said Silva's work on his heading on the training ground – irrespective of whether it is mainly for bragging rights – had not gone unnoticed.

    "He is really good at headers, he is really good! I saw in the training sessions," he said.

    "When you make an action for a header you have to use the body, not just the head. He used his neck perfectly. He was strong, the goal was fantastic.

    "Attacking midfielders have to arrive in the box and Bernardo and Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] have this quality."

    Another of Silva's international team-mates, Joao Cancelo, was named man of the match after he supplied a sumptuous cross for the opener and the centre that led to Jesus' close-range effort.

    "He's an amazing player. I've played with him seven years at Benfica. We're from the same generation," Silva added, with Dias also having also come through the ranks with the Lisbon giants.

    "I know him very well, so the connection is good. He knows my timing, I know how good he is on these kind of balls.

    "It was a very good goal because of his passing qualities. Overall, he's been doing a great season and I'm very happy for him."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.