Belfast Telegraph

Solskjaer is unfazed as clubs begin to wield axe

 

Staying strong: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unconcerned about his job security
Staying strong: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unconcerned about his job security
Jose Mourinho

By Simon Peach

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claims to be unruffled by the start of sacking season as the under-fire Manchester United manager prepares for predecessor Jose Mourinho's Old Trafford return.

Premier League draws with promoted Sheffield United and Aston Villa either side of the Europa League loss at Astana have ratcheted up the pressure on the 1999 treble hero.

United are in the midst of their worst start to a top-flight campaign in 31 years, having mustered just four Premier League wins ahead of Tottenham's highly-anticipated arrival tonight.

Mourinho will be hoping to compound matters on his first return to the Old Trafford touchline, having benefited from the start of sacking season.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, Arsenal's Unai Emery and Watford head coach Quique Sanchez Flores have all left in the last fortnight - managerial changes that Solskjaer says have not alarmed him.

"No, it doesn't make me more concerned," the United boss said.

"I'm just focusing on my job and that's doing as well as I can and looking forward to the next game, but also looking long-term, plan things with the board.

"It's that time of year. It's never nice to see your colleagues lose their jobs - now three in a very short space of time.

"You can talk about VAR all day long, and I don't know what the reasons behind the sackings at different clubs. But one result, for example, the Southampton v Watford one, with that handball, and (if it is called) we're talking about something completely different maybe.

"It is as football is - it's a game of margins. Sometimes you have luck, sometimes you don't, but it doesn't make me any more concerned that it's December."

Solskjaer's side sit ninth in the Premier League on 18 points after 14 games, but there have been no "knee-jerk" conversations with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward or the owners.

Mourinho was sacked last December with United sixth after collecting 26 points from 17 matches, having won the Europa League, League Cup and Community Shield before things fell apart.

The Portuguese has received a warm welcome when returning with Sky Sports and Solskjaer expects the Spurs boss to receive similar tonight.

"Very good reception," Solskjaer said. "Of course, that's just a testament to this club and the supporters. Of course they remember the two-and-a-half years he was here, he won trophies. I'm 100 per cent sure our fans will welcome him, and the staff and the club, everyone.

"I can't remember the league position we were in (when I replaced Mourinho) but I've had 50 games since then and the club isn't where it should have been and isn't where we want to be and we know we have to improve.

"We are working to do that and when you change manager halfway through the season it isn't where it is supposed to be."

Meanwhile, Mourinho says his time at United is "a closed chapter" and that he is only interested in beating them.

Mourinho's Tottenham visit United looking for a fourth straight win under the Portuguese. It is the manager's first return to the touchline at Old Trafford since his sacking last December.

"This is a closed chapter for me," he said. "I left the club, I took my time to process everything that happened, I took my time to prepare myself for the next challenge.

"Honestly, United for me is in my book of experiences, it's in my history book."

United are still struggling under Mourinho's successor Solskjaer but go into the game just the two points behind fifth-placed Spurs.

Mourinho added: "It is not for me to analyse United now. I analyse them as an opponent, how they play. How can we beat them? How can they beat us? For me that is the important thing."

Mourinho is excited about returning to Old Trafford.

He said: "I feel good, I like to play big matches, I like to play against the best teams and go back to a place where I was happy. I have a great relationship with the Manchester United supporters. I went back as a pundit and I was humbled by such a beautiful reception.

"Tomorrow I go back as the coach of the team that will try and beat United. I understand that what they want is the exact opposite of what I want. Of course, during the match I expect them to forget me."

Man United

Tottenham

Premier League Old Trafford, Tonight, 7.30pm

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