Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes success in the Premier League will be the ultimate barometer of whether Manchester United are “back”.
The 20-time English champions have not lifted a trophy since Jose Mourinho led them to EFL Cup and Europa League glory in 2016-17.
United are back in Europa League action against Milan at San Siro on Thursday, with a place in the last-16 on the line after a 1-1 draw in last week’s home leg.
Solskjaer, who succeeded Mourinho midway through the 2018-19 season, would love to bring silverware back to the club he played for in such decorated fashion.
However, he feels United’s position in second place in the Premier League – and as the only team to beat leaders Manchester City in their past 32 matches – stands as the best measure of their progress, irrespective of whether there is an new addition to the Old Trafford trophy room at the end of the campaign.
“I’ve been here two-and-a-half of those [trophy-less] years now. I felt a big rebuild had to be made,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“It’s in the league position where you see if there’s been any progress. That’s the bread and butter of the season. You see how capable you are, coping with ups and downs.
“A cup competition can give you a trophy but sometimes it’s more of an ego thing – we’ve finally won something!
“We need to see progress and if we progress and perform well enough the trophies will end up at the club again.
“But it’s not like a trophy will say that we’re back. It’s about the gradual progression and consistency of being in and around the top of the league.
“Sometimes a cup competition can hide the fact that you’re still struggling a little bit.”
1 – Among the 67 managers Pep Guardiola has faced more than three times across all competitions as a top-flight boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the only one to have beaten the Spaniard (4) more often that he has lost to Guardiola (3). Devil. pic.twitter.com/RKl7lhGLJq
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 7, 2021
One United player who is struggling is Anthony Martial, who will be absent as he recovers from the hip injury he suffered during last week’s game against Milan.
David de Gea is back in contention following paternity leave, although Dean Henderson has been Solskjaer’s first choice for Europa League matches this season.
Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek are all back in contention after returning to training this week, although Solskjaer did not wish to discuss speculation over the future of the latter midfielder after an underwhelming maiden campaign at Old Trafford to date.
“There’s always speculation here,” he said.
“As we’ve said they’ve been involved in the training session, so let’s see if there’s any reaction or not.
“Donny has been working really hard to get back available for the final stages of the season.”
Loanee Diogo Dalot is set to feature once more for Milan against his parent club but Solskjaer insists the Portuguese full-back has a future at United.
“Yeah, the plan was always for Diogo this season to get fit. He never managed to be fit for a long spell when he was here, unfortunately,” he explained.
“Now he’s kept fit all season. He’s playing at a big club with big expectations and a great history. It’s been a good year for him.
“He’s our player and we’re looking forward to getting him back.”
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