Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Manchester United need to rediscover their spark if they are to stop relentless Premier League leaders Manchester City extending their eye-watering advantage in Sunday’s derby.
Having been knocked off top spot by Pep Guardiola’s men on January 26, their fortunes have contrasted to such an extent that the Red Devils sit 14 points behind their rivals heading to the Etihad Stadium.
United’s title challenge has been all but ended by winning just two of eight top-flight matches during that period, with Wednesday’s lifeless 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace the latest frustrating result.
That underwhelming night did, though, see their unbeaten away league streak extend to 21 matches – a run that will be tested to the maximum by a City side who have won 21 successive games in all competitions.
“I don’t worry. I can only control what’s happening here at Man United and there’s so many differences between the clubs,” Solskjaer said.
“If it’s the clubs you talk about, I can sit here and talk about a lot.
“At the moment they’re the only team ahead of us. Of course we want to try and claw back points on them and get closer to them.
“They’ve gone through a fantastic spell at the moment, great form, 21 wins.
“We’ve had 21 away games in the league unbeaten, so one record is going to be broken, so let’s see which one it is.”
It is likely to be City celebrating on derby day if United repeat their Selhurst Park performance given Solskjaer’s side looked tired and failed to impose themselves.
“When you get the results that you get, sometimes you tend to forget about the performances,” he said.
“Yeah, the West Brom game wasn’t the best quality but we felt there’s improvement to be made on that one.
“The Palace game, of course, if you compare that to last year’s game against Palace, not very dissimilar.
“But we had two or three fantastic moments. Marcus (Rashford) and Anthony (Martial), the two goals that they scored in that game, that was the spark – really, really top-class football.
“In the Premier League when the opposition don’t make mistakes, like Palace never did, you have to earn the right with the quality and we just lacked a bit of that in the last few games.
“Still, we’ve gone 10 games unbeaten. Three weeks, four weeks ago we couldn’t defend, then we were really well attacking-wise – that’s the narrative anyway.
“Now the narrative is that we can’t score a goal. It’s been a week without us scoring goals (due to three successive 0-0 draws).
“It’s not long ago we played fantastic football against Sociedad, got good goals against Newcastle, Southampton. It’s sometimes margins, you know, in football.
“That little step back now, one day extra recovery before this derby. Hopefully we get our spark back.”
The City trip kicks off a big fortnight for the Red Devils, who play their Europa League last-16 tie against AC Milan either side of next weekend’s match with in-form West Ham before the FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward this week said that “the progress made by Ole and the players this season is clear” and Solskjaer believes they are going in the right direction, albeit they are currently a “fair distance” behind City.
“Of course you’d like to win every game of football but if you compare to last season, the position we’re in, we’re quite a bit higher up in the league at the same stage,” the United boss said.
“We’re still in Europe and the FA Cup, so it’s probably the league position you think ‘yep, that’s where we’ve shown the progress’.
“Hopefully we can prove in the Europa League and FA Cup that we’ve taken another further step for this team.
“The ambitions are there, of course, and we have more experience to be in this position compared to last season.
“We’re gelling more as a team, they’re fitter, but at the moment we’re just looking at the short-term and that’s Sunday, and that’s to get back to creating chances, taking them and scoring goals again.”
Dean Henderson will be between the sticks on Sunday after David De Gea returned to Spain for the birth of his first child.
Martial needs assessing and Donny Van De Beek is a doubt, with Paul Pogba set to miss out again with a thigh injury.