Belfast Telegraph

Lukaku and Sanchez must strive to raise their game: Manchester United boss Solskjaer

 

Off colour: Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez has struggled to make an impact this season
Off colour: Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez has struggled to make an impact this season

By Simon Peach

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to up their game as the out-of-sorts stars close in on a Manchester United return.

The post-Jose Mourinho era has got off to a superb start under the Norwegian, with the mauling of Cardiff followed by a comprehensive win against Huddersfield on Boxing Day.

Paul Pogba has shone under new management, with the previously marginalised midfielder stepping up to the plate and showing just why United forked out a then world-record fee to bring him back in 2016.

Now Solskjaer has challenged floundering Lukaku and Sanchez to follow the World Cup winner's example, even if the caretaker manager dismissed the suggestion that the Frenchman's improved performances were down to him.

"I think you put it the wrong way, because I cannot do anything for their performances on the pitch," Solskjaer said. "Paul has done it himself, the players have made the performances.

"My chats with Anthony (Martial), Romelu, Alexis, whoever... (they have) not felt that they cannot produce their best football.

"I'm here to guide them, help them on the path and then it's up to them to do it on the pitch.

"I don't agree that I have done that with Paul and I can do that with Romelu and Alexis.

"It's up to them when they get a chance, that's the name of the game when you are a footballer. You've got to do it yourself.

"I give them some guidelines, of course, there has been loads of talk about freedom of expression, but that's how I've always been as a manager.

"You can't tell all the players what to do in that position, they are here for a reason.

"They are good players and it's up to them to use their imagination, their creativity and just enjoy playing for this club because that is the best time of your life."

Solskjaer is enjoying life at the helm and tomorrow's visit of Bournemouth offers a chance to continue his winning start.

Lukaku and Sanchez will be assessed after missing the first two matches of the Norwegian's reign, with the former given leave due to a private matter and the Chilean returning from a hamstring injury.

However, Chris Smalling still faces weeks on the sidelines.

"Smalling's got a sore foot, so I don't think we'll see him until the New Year," Solskjaer said. "Maybe not before Spurs, probably around about that time."

Fellow defender Marcos Rojo is also closing in on a return to full fitness, bolstering a side whose inability to keep clean sheets is an area that Solskjaer is focusing on as United look to cut back the eight-point gap to the top four.

"There are things we need to improve, and we are in this position for a reason," he said. "We've not been consistent enough, we have not been able to keep clean sheets, we have not scored enough.

"The open part of defending has been good, but we need to get back to the habit of not conceding. There's loads of things. You always look to improve."

But the captaincy will not be among the changes made by Solskjaer.

Antonio Valencia has made only seven appearances for United since he was given the captain's armband in the summer and speculation is building over his future.

"Antonio is the captain when fit," Solskjaer added. "When he's playing, he'll wear the armband.

"He's going through a couple of tough sessions now to get him ready for the busy period.

"There are not many better right-backs going forward with his abilities, so, yeah, you'll see him wear his band."

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