Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted he never doubted his ability to manage Manchester United despite criticism during his tenure.

United are on a five-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and sit sixth in the table ahead of hosting Everton on Sunday.

Solskjaer has faced criticism since replacing Jose Mourinho in December last year, but recent wins over Tottenham and Manchester City have silenced the Norwegian's doubters.

The United manager said he always believed in his own ability to deliver at Old Trafford.

"I always had the belief that I could manage this club. I wouldn't have taken the job if I had felt I couldn't do it because I owe Manchester United honesty," Solskjaer told UK media, via the Mirror.

"Football wise, I think I can hold my own when it comes to tactics and stuff, but I have a great staff to help me. It's not all about me.

"I'm so glad I've got Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna and I think I make them feel that I can do the job here and that's happening.

"That's why I was never afraid of not being able to handle this. I always knew I could.

"It's about treating people the right way and, for me, managing United is treating the staff, the players, anyone the same. It doesn't matter which club I'm at, that's just my personality."

A win over Everton on Sunday would lift United back into fifth and just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer compared Manchester United's current strike force to the combination of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez as he hailed the versatility of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James.

Rashford and Martial were on target as United beat Manchester City in last weekend's derby at the Etihad Stadium, and Solskjaer believes the young England forward is showing signs he can follow in the footsteps of five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

Solskjaer and Ronaldo spent four years together as players at Old Trafford, before the Norwegian worked with his former team-mate as a forwards coach, and few people are better placed to compare the Juventus star with Rashford.

Speaking about the fluid movement and interchanging positional play of Rashford, Martial and James, Solskjaer told Sky Sports: "I think that's a big strength of ours as a team.

"If Marcus runs in behind, Anthony will get some space because it stretches the opponent. It can be the opposite way around too, with Anthony and Dan running in behind and Marcus coming to feet to get on the ball.

"I see this attack as being quite similar to the one we had with Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, with the interchanging of positions and the fast, flowing football."

Under Solskjaer, Rashford has equalled his best Premier League goal return in a single season within the first half of the 2019-20 campaign.

Rashford's 10th league goal of the season came from the penalty spot against City and Solskjaer praised the 22-year-old's versatility while drawing comparisons with Ronaldo, who played on the wing and as a striker during his time in Manchester.

"Of course it's hard to say with certainty that he's going to be as good as Cristiano, but you can see the similarities more and more in terms of Marcus' traits on the pitch," said Solskjaer.

"He can play through the middle, he can play as a number nine, he can cut inside from the left and finish. He can even play on the right, as Cristiano did when he came here. He's got the same physical stature and more or less all of his attributes are very, very similar. Even their stats are similar, in terms of goals scored after a certain amount of games."

"You have to remember that, as well as playing with Cristiano, I coached him in my first year as a forwards coach here," he added.

"Both players are very professional, very dedicated, very in love with football. And you can see that Marcus is getting more of a taste for that now, both with us and with England. He is pushing himself and seeing the results."

Marcus Rashford labelled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer comparing him to Cristiano Ronaldo as "nice", but the Manchester United forward said he still had a way to go to reach those heights.

Rashford was compared to Ronaldo by his manager after starring in United's 2-1 Premier League win over Manchester City last week.

But while happy with such talk, the 22-year-old said he needed to improve to match the five-time Ballon d'Or winner and United great.

"The Ronaldo thing was nice, definitely a compliment," Rashford told BBC Sport.

"But I understand how far I've got left to go to reach the heights he reached so I am very clear-minded and focused on myself."

Rashford came through the academy at United and has already made 191 senior appearances for the Premier League giants, scoring 58 goals.

The forward has a painting on the walls at Carrington after coming through the youth system and Rashford said he knew the responsibility he held.

"It is a bit overwhelming but it is the process of development. The players I looked up to are obviously older now. The younger players look up to us," he said.

"The transition happens so fast. When I understood that, my perception of that picture changed a little bit.

"When I was younger and saw people such as [David] Beckham and [Paul] Scholes on the walls, it gave me that determination every time you went to training. I wanted to reach those heights. I knew they were on the other side of the building, training every day and working hard. I was so far away from them but so close at the same time.

"It's happening now where people like me and Scotty [McTominay] are an example to some of the academy lads who are coming in. It will be the same in a few years' time, when it's the next lot of kids.

"While that happens, I don't see United's breeding of players slowing down."

Jesse Lingard admits he thought his Manchester United career was over following a social media post during a year in which family problems have taken their toll on his form.

Lingard endured a poor run of performances that cost him his place for his club and England, with a strike in the 2-1 loss to Astana last month ending a 307-day wait to score a goal.

During pre-season, the 26-year-old posted a crude video to Snapchat while on holiday with friends and was disciplined by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Lingard, who insists the footage was published by accident, has now revealed he was given a final warning over his future by Solskjaer after thinking the incident could have ended his time at the club.

The forward, who has been criticised for his social media activity in the past, told the Daily Mail: "It genuinely was a mistake to post it. I have a lot of young followers and I would never put that out there deliberately. It was an accident.

"I was meaning to send it privately to one of my friends. I was on a plane waiting to take off. Someone from the club texted me and said: 'Take the video down.'

"When I realised what I had done, my heart just sank into my stomach. I was like, 'I am done at United now. This is the final straw.'

"I was told the manager was going mad, but I was in the air for two hours and literally couldn't do anything. When I got back, I came in early to speak to the manager and apologise. He said I was on my last chance. He said I had to get my head down and that is what I have done. I am not stupid.

"There is no way I was going to let what I have at this club be taken away. On the whole, I have cut down on my social media stuff now. You do what you have to do."

The incident was a low point in a difficult year for Lingard, who has revealed he has struggled with caring for his younger brother and sister while his mother has been ill.

With Solskjaer - unaware of the problems - pressuring the player into recapturing his best form, Lingard went to the manager to explain his off-the-field concerns, which have also included his grandfather battling cancer and his grandmother being unwell.

"I wasn't performing, and he was on me all the time. He wanted more from me," he said. "So, I felt it was best to get everything off my chest and tell him why my head wasn't right. So, I knocked on his door.

"I am a person who likes to deal with stuff on his own but it's not necessarily the right thing to do. I always use the phrase 'be yourself' but I have realised now that there are times when you just can't be. My dad and older brother, Louie, have been great support but some of this stuff has broken my heart, you know?"

The talk with Solskjaer proved to be a turning point, with Lingard having impressed from the start in last week's wins over Tottenham and Manchester City after an encouraging appearance off the bench in a 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion last month.

"When I came on the manager said to me, 'Just go on and play with a smile and enjoy it.' To hear that gives you confidence. He knows what kind of character I am. I need to be smiling," Lingard said.

"He has just told me that everything will be okay. Maybe I just needed someone to say that. He said he just wanted the old Jesse back and maybe I can give him that now."

Lingard was also grateful to be made captain of his boyhood club for the Europa League game in Astana, as he led out a team of mostly young players.

"That definitely helped with my confidence," he added. "Ole is great at man-management. He made me captain, then we beat Spurs and City and I played. Before the matches I am saying to myself, 'Just play with a smile. It's football and you were born to do it.'"

Paul Pogba says Manchester United's young players must make the most of their chances in the first team as they are playing for "maybe the biggest club in history".

Sunday's Premier League game against Everton at Old Trafford is due to be the 4,000th in a row in which the Red Devils have included at least one academy graduate in the matchday squad.

That run, which stretches back to 1937, has been kept alive by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's commitment to promoting youngsters into the first team this season.

Thursday's 4-0 Europa League defeat of AZ saw nine players with United academy backgrounds included in the squad.

Pogba, who joined United as a 16-year-old, is now encouraging the youngsters at Solskjaer's disposal not to take their opportunities to impress for granted.

"I've said to a lot of the young players who have been with the first team: 'Guys, you don't know how lucky you are.' Unfortunately for us, we've had a lot of injured players and it's therefore a big chance for the young players to be involved with the first team," Pogba, sidelined with an ankle injury since September, told United's website.

"They have the chance to do well and stay there. So, I said to them: 'Take this luck and take this opportunity because it's important until the other players come back fit.' You never know, there could be an injured player and a young player comes in and plays a great game and they stay with the first team until the end of their career.

"So, I've told them: 'Guys, be ready and always take the opportunity.' If they have the quality to be with the first team then why not take the opportunity and play and enjoy yourself?

"Mason [Greenwood], since the first training session that I saw him in, and Brandie [Brandon Williams], Jimmy [James Garner], Angel [Gomes], Chongy [Tahith Chong] and all the players. Axel [Tuanzebe] as well, although I don't see him as a young guy, for me, he has been in the first team for a long time, Timo [Tim Fosu-Mensah] as well, but the younger ones, they have the quality, they have everything to be in the first team.

"They've been playing and having some minutes and they should enjoy it when they're on the pitch and work hard. Mason is scoring goals, Brandie has been playing games like he's been there for six months already. This is about what the club is about and what the manager wants."

Pogba, who is still being linked with a move away from United, continued: "I think and I hope I can help them. This is one of the biggest clubs in the world and maybe the biggest club in history and they have the chance to be in this club. So I say to them: 'Take your chance, play, you are young, you have quality, you have nothing to be afraid of.'

"I hope I can give them the good example when I'm on the pitch and outside the pitch and, even though I don't see myself as old, I hope that the young players will, one day, come and take my position [when I finish playing]. That's how it is, I won't play forever.

"We all give our best on the pitch and I hope these young players will become legends here at the club. They have to enjoy it and really appreciate the chance they have here."

Pogba admitted it was a daunting experience to join the club as a teenager in 2009, when Alex Ferguson was manager.

"When I arrived here, everything felt big!" he said. "The training ground was big, all the players were big, the pitch was big, everything was big and I had my eyes open the whole time. Then I put the shirt on for the first time and I said: 'Wow, I came to Manchester United.' I just couldn't believe it.

"When I started training with the first team, I was 17, and I remember Vida [Nemanja Vidic] was there and Park Ji-sung and I touched Vida and I saw how tough and how strong he was! I knew then I had to work hard to get into the first team.

"It was a really great experience as a young kid to come here at 16 and see everything so big, and see all these top players and a top manager. To be there, having them sat next to us around the training ground, was a dream come true."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed how he first identified Mason Greenwood's talent when the Manchester United prodigy was aged just seven.

Greenwood, now 18, became the youngest player to notch a brace for the club in a major European competition when he struck twice in the 4-0 Europa League win over AZ on Thursday.

The teenage attacker has scored six times in total this term despite starting only seven matches.

Solskjaer described Greenwood's finishing as "different class" after the AZ win and explained the origins of his admiration for the exciting homegrown prospect.

"I actually remember when I met him the first time," the United manager told reporters.

"My son was training at The Cliff [United's former training base] as an eight-year-old. Mason was seven. The first time I saw him he stood out.

"I took a picture with him and he's now here. It's just what we do. When he signed his contract, we had a nice little memory."

Asked who requested the photo, Solskjaer joked: "I asked him because I knew he was going to be a [great] player! He's probably got it [the photo]."

Greenwood may still have to settle for a place among the substitutes when United entertain Everton on Sunday.

The Toffees will again be under the stewardship of interim manager Duncan Ferguson, who celebrated a 3-1 victory against Chelsea last weekend.

Solskjaer suggested the trend of ex-players taking charge of their former clubs could become commonplace in the Premier League.

"Duncan knows Everton, Frank [Lampard] knows Chelsea, Frederik [Ljungberg] has been at Arsenal and knows Arsenal well, I know this club well," the Norwegian said.

"I don't know how other clubs think, but I know we have traditions we need to keep, and we need to stick to them.

"We need to stick to the values of the club and probably others might start thinking the same."

The Red Devils boss indicated Jesse Lingard is expected to be fit to face Everton after sustaining a knock in the Manchester derby, while Paul Pogba will "probably" return to full training next week alongside Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Murmurs about Pep Guardiola's potential departure from Manchester City are not going away.

Recent reports have suggested the successful Catalan could look to leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.

It now appears Guardiola has the power to make that happen.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA'S ESCAPE ROUTE

An exit clause in the contract Guardiola signed last year gives the two-time Premier League winner the chance to leave City at the conclusion of the campaign, reports the Daily Mail.

Guardiola's deal, which he renewed in May 2018, runs through to 2021, but it seems he will have a decision to make when the club's title defence comes to a close.

City have formulated contingency plans, according to the report, and are "known to be admirers" of former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Guardiola, 48, has been linked with a return to Bayern Munich but last month said he was "open" to signing another contract extension with City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United missed out on Liverpool-bound Takumi Minamino because the Old Trafford club were unaware of a £7.25million exit clause in the winger's Salzburg contract, says the Mirror.

- Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund want to keep Jadon Sancho in January but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are confident of pushing through a transfer for the England international, claims the Mirror.

- Inter are monitoring Argentine attacking midfielder Rodrigo De Paul but are not prepared to meet Udinese's €35m asking price, according to CalcioMercato.

- Carlo Ancelotti is set to fly to London for talks with Everton as the managerless Merseysiders look to beat Arsenal to the ex-Napoli boss, says the Sun.

- Ivan Rakitic appears set to stay at Barcelona after all. The midfielder wants to continue at Camp Nou after breaking back into the starting XI over the past four matches, reports Marca.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested he is ready to delve into the January transfer market.

Mason Greenwood scored a superb brace as United built on consecutive 2-1 wins over Tottenham and Manchester City by breezing past AZ 4-0 to top their Europa League group.

Solskjaer has leant on Greenwood and other promising youth products, much to the delight of United fans, but he is keen to deepen his squad and could act during the mid-season window.

"We are looking to strengthen in many positions," he said at his post-match news conference.

"If you look at our squad compared to the others, we are getting there but we still need two or three players to have enough numbers to rotate through a long season.

"So we'll see what we sign."

Irrespective of who comes in, Solskjaer has a talent in Greenwood he insists he will be happy to use frequently on the big stage.

"He played against Tottenham and was class. I'm not afraid of playing him in the Premier League," he added.

"Not at all. But it's about sharing the minutes and finding the right minutes for him. Of course he's ready to play in the Premier League."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer distanced Mason Greenwood from comparisons to Wayne Rooney after the teenage forward starred in Manchester United's 4-0 win over AZ.

United continued their December resurgence despite a lacklustre first half against their Eredivisie opponents, with Greenwood to the fore.

After Ashley Young opened the scoring, the 18-year-old striker fired home two sublime finishes either side of winning a penalty that Juan Mata converted.

All the goals came in the space of 11 second-half minutes, with Solskjaer's men now seeded for Monday's knockout-stage draw.

"He's different class as a finisher," Solskjaer told BT Sport. "In and around the box you expect him to get a shot off and on target. He's so precise in his finishing.

"He's good how he creates space for himself."

Solskjaer was asked to draw parallels with another famous European night at Old Trafford, when an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney marked his Champions League debut with a hat-trick against Fenerbahce.

"No, no, no. He's a different type of player, Mason than Wazza, but he must have enjoyed tonight," he said.

"The thing is with Mason, he's just going to look forward to Sunday tomorrow – he's not going to rest on his laurels."

Following 2-1 wins over Tottenham and Manchester City, Solskjaer heads into Sunday's home match against Everton with the feeling his squad is going from strength to strength.

"It's very good. A lot of things can change in a week, but for us we just want games coming. It's a good group," he added.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how this December goes because they're growing into a good group."

Mason Greenwood starred with a superb brace as Manchester United thumped AZ 4-0 to seal top spot in Europa League Group L.

The first half was in keeping with the fact both teams had already qualified but United sprung into life with a flurry of four goals inside 11 second-half minutes.

Teenage forward Greenwood was to the fore after Ashley Young opened the scoring, dispatching a pair of fabulous finishes either side of winning a penalty that Juan Mata converted.

AZ were left to rue a pair of missed chances from Calvin Stengs as United romped clear to be assured of a seeded spot in Monday's draw for the knockout stages.

Andreas Pereira forced AZ goalkeeper Marco Bizot into an early near-post save but the lack of jeopardy in the game was initially reflected by its entertainment levels.

Netherlands forward Stengs dragged unconvincingly wide before the interval and appeared to be caught be surprise when Owen Wijndal's low 47th-minute cross found him in the midst of a disorganised United backline, prodding too close to Sergio Romero.

Anthony Martial fired wastefully over on the half volley after some fine work from Greenwood, and United's 54th-minute opener came from a more unlikely source.

Pereira cleverly twisted out of a tight space by the left corner flag and combined with Mata and Nemanja Matic before the former cut across the six-yard box for the onrushing Young to find the roof of the net from an acute angle.

Greenwood swiftly doubled the lead with an unerring finish from the edge of the box, although AZ were aggrieved that James Garner was not punished for a foul on Fredrik Midtsjo in the build-up.

AZ continued their collapse when Jordy Clasie clumsily brought down Greenwood, and Mata dispatched his penalty beyond Bizot's dive.

There was more to come from the 18-year-old striker, who danced inside Stijn Wuytens and lashed inside the near post in the 64th minute to complete the scoring.
 

What does it mean? Solskjaer keeps revival running

Following the restorative 2-1 wins over Tottenham and Manchester City in the Premier League, United were faced with the sort of challenge they have come to dread of late – a match they entered as favourites. A torpid opening period suggested a return to familiar struggles but then they turned on the style.

Greenwood lives up to his billing

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is no stranger to unhelpful hyperbole, but Greenwood seems to relish measuring up to the tag of being "one of the best finishers I've ever seen". His opener might have come with a slice of controversy but each of his goals were dispatched with crisp precision.

Midtsjo not spared by ref reprieve

Although replays suggested he was on the receiving end of a foul from Garner, it should be asked what on earth Midtsjo was doing when he dribbled diagonally into a crowded area 25 yards from his own goal. It was exactly the sort of decision that can turn a difficult moment into a rout.

What's next?

United host managerless Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday, with second-placed AZ welcoming champions and leaders Ajax in the Eredivisie.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been rewarded for his brilliant display up against Raheem Sterling in the Manchester derby, earning inclusion in FIFA Ultimate Team's latest Team of the Week.

Manchester United claimed a fine 2-1 win at the home of the champions on Saturday, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial getting the goals.

But arguably just as vital was the performance of Wan-Bissaka at right-back, as the England Under-21 international played an integral role in nullifying Sterling, one of the Premier League's form players.

Wan-Bissaka completed a match-high five tackles – one a last-ditch challenge to deny Sterling what looked set to be a certain goal – and also made seven clearances.

Liverpool star Sadio Mane is back in the TOTW for the second time, while Serie A's chief creator Luis Alberto lines up in midfield having set up another two goals in Lazio's 3-1 win over Juventus, taking his campaign tally to 11, five more than anyone else in the competition.

Unsurprisingly there is also a place in the team for Real Betis' Joaquin after he became the oldest player in LaLiga history to score a hat-trick, while Memphis Depay and Marco Reus lead the line.

Below, we take a look at the latest squad in full.

FUT TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Martin Dubravka (Newcastle United) – 83

CB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United) – 82

CB: Martin Hinteregger (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 83

CB: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – 86

LM: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – 90

CDM: Charles Aranguiz (Bayer Leverkusen) – 85

CDM: Luis Alberto (Lazio) – 87

CM: Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 82

RM: Joaquin (Real Betis) – 83

CF: Memphis Depay (Lyon) – 86

CF: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) – 89

SUBSTITUTES:

GK: Luigi Sepe (Parma) – 81

CB: Guillermo Maripan (Monaco) – 82

LM: Cristian Ansaldi (Torino) – 82

CAM: Matheus Pereira (West Brom) – 81

ST: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 84

ST: Cristhian Stuani (Girona) – 82

RF: Lukas Podolski (Vissel Kobe) – 81

RESERVES:

CM: Cristian Battocchio (Brest) – 78

CM: Carlos Sierra (America de Cali) – 73

ST: Vinicius (Benfica) – 79

ST: Adam Le Fondre (Sydney FC) – 78

ST: Josh Maja (Bordeaux) – 75

Sergio Romero still feels he is living the dream at Manchester United despite acknowledging frustration over being a permanent back-up.

Romero, 32, joined United from Sampdoria in 2015, allowing him to link up once again with his former AZ coach Louis van Gaal.

Although the Dutchman did not last at United, Romero has continued to be a valuable asset to the club, with predecessor Jose Mourinho and his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeping him on as the back-up to David de Gea.

Throughout Romero's time at United he has had to contend with being second choice, though under Mourinho the Argentina international featured prominently in the victorious Europa League campaign of 2016-17, even playing the final.

Although he has not played a Premier League game since May 2018, Romero has made three European appearances this season – but he could not hide his frustration at not being a regular starter.

"It's not easy, but I work every day for this, for this possibility," Romero said on Wednesday ahead of facing his former team AZ this Thursday.

"When I have my chance in the squad to play, I am ready for this moment. I think in the last four years I have been in a difficult situation because I have played for the national team for years.

"But I am ready, I work every day for my chance and when I have my chance I try to do my best.

"When you have David in front [of you] – in the last years David is the best goalkeeper in the world – this is difficult.

"But I work, I am happy, I am in the best club in the world. I tell about another time when I was young, I saw Man United [play] many times and I say, 'one day I want to play in this club'.

"I am here, I am happy, I work, and when I have my chance, I do my best.

"When I got the chance to come to United I knew I accepted that I would be playing a few games, but when you get the chance to wear this shirt it's a dream come true. It's never intention to be second choice."

Manchester United will have no trouble attracting star signings as they remain "the biggest and best club in the world", manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says.

With the transfer window opening in three weeks' time, the Red Devils have been tipped to bolster a squad that has at times been stretched to breaking point this season.

Strikers including Erling Haland and Mario Mandzukic have been linked with moves to Old Trafford, while Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho, Leicester City playmaker James Maddison and Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez are rumoured longer-term options.

With United fifth in the Premier League and far from certain to return to the Champions League this season, it has been suggested they could struggle to land their priority targets, although recent victories over Tottenham and Manchester City have assuaged some doubts about their progress this season.

It was put to Solskjaer on Thursday that some agents have expressed concern over players joining the United project, but the manager has no such fears.

"You said agents, but I'm sure players would want to be here," he told reporters ahead of Thursday's Europa League clash with AZ.

"I don't speak to too many agents. Man United is the biggest and best club in the world and I'm sure there are so many players who would want to be part of the rebuild of Man United. We want to play the type of football our fans and players enjoy."

United had failed to win against Sheffield United, Astana and Aston Villa prior to their impressive victories over Spurs and City, and Solskjaer is now keen for consistency from his young side.

The former striker says it is important for his players to learn how to deliver "when they don't feel like it" if they want to win silverware.

"Consistency is vital in football if you want to win trophies," he said. "This young team need to learn how to put performances in maybe when they don't feel like it, when they don't feel great.

"We've had some games this year where we've not been able to perform as well as we'd like, but that's a learning curve. I'm sure they'll improve on that over the next couple of years and the rest of the season because we've come through a sticky patch."

United face AZ at Old Trafford knowing a draw will be enough to secure top spot in Group L.

Nemanja Matic is expected to return from injury, but Paul Pogba and Diogo Dalot remain unavailable, while Jesse Lingard is a doubt after missing Wednesday's training session with a knock sustained against City.

Nemanja Matic is set to play for Manchester United against AZ in the Europa League on Thursday but Paul Pogba is not yet ready to return, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Matic, 31, has been sidelined with injury since a 0-0 draw with the Eredivisie side back in October.

The former Chelsea midfielder has been tipped to leave United in January, having found his place in Solskjaer's first-team plans come under threat during the opening weeks of the season, with Serie A clubs including Milan and Inter said to be interested.

Matic is due to be given a chance to impress at Old Trafford, though, as United go in search of the draw they need to secure their place as winners of Group L.

"He's fit," Solskjaer said on Wednesday. "He's due to be involved."

Solskjaer also confirmed "it's a bit early" for Diogo Dalot to return, the full-back having only this week resumed training, while midfielder Pogba is still not ready to play following a troublesome ankle injury.

"It's too early," Solskjaer said of Pogba. "We hope so [that he will return in 2019]. He's working hard to get fit so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch.

"Let's get Paul fit first and then back in form and he'll play loads of games. He's one of the best players in the world and we're looking forward to having him back."

In the absence of Pogba and Matic, Fred has begun to cement his place at the heart of the midfield, the Brazil international producing arguably his best performances for the club in the past week in the 2-1 Premier League wins over Tottenham and Manchester City.

"Fred's had the confidence of the coaching staff and me and the players all the time," said Solskjaer. "This form is down to him because he's been working really hard. When he got the chance with Paul injured he grabbed it with both feet and we're really happy to see him perform at this level."

Those two wins over some of United's biggest rivals have eased the pressure on Solskjaer, which had been growing due to his team's frustrating lack of consistency.

Solskjaer, though, insists the belief in his plans to rebuild the team has never wavered, while he felt the decision to take largely a team of youngsters to Astana two weeks ago paid off thanks to the Spurs and City results.

"Inside [the club], we've always had belief in what we're doing. It might change on the outside but it's results, you can't change that," Solskjaer said. "It's the nature of football. Sometimes, you've got the margins on your side.

"I think the decision we made to send the young players to Astana made sure the players who stayed here were more ready because it was a hard week.

"Results are always the proof in the end, but we've always believed in what we're doing it. It's going to be ups and downs, but we're on the right track. I see these boys every day in training, the attitude and skills they have got, so I'm not that worried."

United have already qualified for the knockout phase and need only a point to guarantee top spot in the group, but Solskjaer insisted he wants to beat AZ.

"Of course I'm bothered [about the result]," he added. "I'm not going to send the boys out and say, 'I don't care if you win or lose'.

"Every game you play for Man United is a chance to prove yourself and to me and the supporters that you deserve to be part of the team for a long time."

Manchester United claimed the derby bragging rights with a 2-1 victory over Premier League champions Manchester City last Saturday – concluding a validatory week for their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

A blistering first-half performance on the counter-attack saw Anthony Martial score what proved to be the winner after Marcus Rashford netted from the penalty spot.

The result came after Solskjaer claimed midweek victory over predecessor Jose Mourinho and his Tottenham side by the same scoreline, handing a huge boost to an Old Trafford reign that was attracting mounting scrutiny.

United have also beaten Chelsea and Leicester City this season, while they remain the only side to take points off runaway leaders Liverpool.

However, Everton sitting 14th in the table ahead of Sunday's match suggests they could spell trouble.

Hitting the 'big six' for six

Although no longer the fixture they were under Alex Ferguson when it comes to the biggest prizes in the game, United certainly have it in them to rise to the big occasion against teams aspiring to those heights.

When facing sides who have started the game in the Premier League's top six, Solskjaer has won four, drawn three and lost two of nine matches after the success at the Etihad Stadium last time out.

That amounts to a win percentage of 44.4 per cent, a number greater than the 40.7 per cent Mourinho enjoyed over the course of 27 games during his United tenure.

Solksjaer's numbers are even more impressive when considering games against fellow members of the widely regarded 'big six' – City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea – and Leicester, the 2015-16 champions currently riding high in second.

In 12 games against those opponents since succeeding Mourinho, Solskjaer has won half and drawn four, losing only twice – 2-0 at home to City last April, having done likewise away to Arsenal a month earlier.

Mourinho only succeeded nine times in 22 of those games, a win percentage of 40.9, losing eight.

Overrun by the also-rans

Sitting alongside those wins over City, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham this season are Premier League losses to Crystal Palace, West Ham. Newcastle United and Bournemouth.

Of that quartet, only 10th-placed Palace reside in the top half of the table.

In games facing opponents in the bottom six on matchdays under Solskjaer, United have won six, drawn four and lost three, giving him a win percentage of 46.2.

Mourinho was far more successful in such presumed straightforward encounters, winning 60.7 per cent (W17 D7 L4).

Pogba to pick the lock?

The sight of Martial, Rashford, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard tearing into the big spaces behind City's midfield at the Etihad did much to explain the unusual trend in United's results.

That quartet in tandem amount to a formidable, livewire threat on the counter attack. However, operating in the small spaces afforded by deep-lying defences is a different proposition entirely.

Paul Pogba is closing in on a return from an ankle injury and, whatever the France star might lack in tenacity, his added creativity and guile could prove a significant asset.

Since returning to Old Trafford for a then-world record £89.3million from Juventus in 2016, Pogba has scored 24 goals in 97 Premier League games.

He has also contributed 25 assists and has created 164 chances – one every 50 minutes.

Lingard, who would probably be most vulnerable to a returning Pogba in Solskjaer's current XI, as Fred and Scott McTominay have thrived at the base of the midfield, has 22 goal involvements compared to Pogba's 49 over the same period.

That breaks down into 13 goals and nine assists. He has created 87 chances, a little more than half Pogba's overall amount.

Although the feelgood factor has returned to United in Pogba's absence, he could yet be the man to make it grow into something more sustainable under Solskjaer.

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