MANCHESTER, England – After beating Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford, Manchester United are within eight points of Premier League leaders Manchester City by six games. It’s the same situation City faced in the 2012 hunt for United … and we all know how that ended.
Lightning is unlikely to strike twice but if nothing else, United have confirmed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s claim that they would do whatever they could to put pressure on Pep Guardiola’s team in the final weeks of the season. It would take a monumental breakdown, but that won’t stop many United fans from keeping an eye on the City to Aston Villa trip on Wednesday.
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For a while on Sunday it looked like that was unnecessary after James Tarkowski headed an equalizer to undo Mason Greenwood’s opener, but goals from Greenwood and Edinson Cavani in the last six minutes gave United their first home win over Burnley since 2015 and added some additional intrigue around the game in Villa Park.
The goalscorer of an injury-time winner in a Champions League final, Solskjaer knows the importance of refusing to throw in the towel.
“I’m really proud that we never give up and we’ve proven our fitness and resilience so many times this season,” he said. “We came back last week [against Tottenham] and we scored three goals. We scored three goals again in the second half [against Burnley]. “
“The title is probably unrealistic, but strange things have happened in football,” added the United manager. “We just have to do our job.”
Solskjaer knows that United can only celebrate success when it is in the form of cutlery. However, since the title is as good as unattainable, his team still makes a remarkable debut in the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson.
United have scored 66 points in each of the last two seasons and, with a 12-point lead over fifth place in Chelsea, guarantees qualification for the Champions League, which also includes the top four consecutive finishes for the first time since Ferguson Retired in 2013.
Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho – winners of 15 national titles across Europe and three Champions League leagues – are two of the three men who failed where Solskjaer, whose qualifications as United manager are regularly challenged, will succeed .
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At least that suggests United are more consistent. The next step is to compete for the title on a regular basis and ultimately win it. While this is easier said than done, it appears that Solskjaer built a platform.
Van Gaal and Mourinho both had two full seasons in hand and while each won trophies, their league placements were fourth, fifth, sixth and two. In his two full campaigns as boss, Solskjaer is well on the way to taking third and second place.
United lost three of their first six league games that season but were beaten in only one of their last 26 top games. Beating Burnley – at home for the first time since 2015 – earned them five straight league wins for the first time since Solskjaer’s first win in December 2018 after Mourinho’s move.
“In the first half we started well, got control, but we couldn’t find the big openings and Burnley made it more of an end-to-end game, a bit scratchy because they defended and attacked so well have that we couldn’t get a rhythm. ” Said Solskjaer. “We played in the second half and we ran, we got chances and we deserved the goal. You knocked out for the corner for two seconds and that’s how it was against Burnley.”
After scoring a league goal between September and March, Greenwood has found the net in each of his last three games, five in his last six games in all competitions. Solskjaer’s prediction that the 19-year-old would score again has proven correct.
“Very happy for Mason,” said Solskjaer. “He mixes up his game. He goes inside and outside, he matures all the time. It’s nice to see. He has put the work on the training ground and is reaping the rewards.”
Greenwood’s doubles puts him level with Wayne Rooney for late-season league goals for a United teen aged 15 and could deserve a recall for England in time for the European Championship. That comeback is slightly more likely than City overtaking for the title, but United are doing their best to crank up the heat.