Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford questioned their workrate and mentality as he offered a brutally honest appraisal of his side’s slump in form after Wednesday’s 2-0 derby defeat by Manchester City at Old Trafford.
United’s surge after manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over from the sacked Jose Mourinho in December seems like a distant memory, with the club having lost seven of their last nine matches in all competitions, including the last three without scoring.
“Today we didn’t play like Manchester United. It’s not right. The bare minimum is to work hard and give all for the badge, the supporters, the club and yourself,” Rashford said.
“It has been a tough road to get to where we are, to get there and not be putting up the same performances as we were in January is disappointing,” he added.
“We know what’s been going wrong, it’s mentality and willingness to run for your team. Forget the league and top four, you don’t lose this game. It’s that simple as a Manchester United fan. We (the players) never call each other out but we have to be real with each other.”
Defeat left United in sixth spot, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who they face this weekend.
“Forget the top four and the Champions League. We have to get to the bottom of it and start playing like Manchester United for ourselves,” Rashford said.
Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, analysing the game for Sky Sports, said United lacked leaders on the pitch.
“They are really low on confidence and were up against a really good team tonight,” he said. “There is a long way back for them. We spoke about leaders and characters, I just don’t think they have enough of them.
“When I played the United team was full of leaders. They have talented players but who is going to lead them through this tough period. There is no quick fix.”
Solskjaer won 10 of his first 11 games in charge, but has won only two of seven since being made permanent manager on March 28.
“The honeymoon period is definitely over,” Keane said. “It’s probably a bigger job than what he thought.
“The club has to back Ole now and let him this summer bring in the players he wants to turn these problems around.”
Solskjaer concedes Man City have set a new standard
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made no attempt to disguise the gulf in quality between his team and Manchester City, describing Pep Guardiola’s side as “the best team in the country” after they won 2-0 at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
“They have set the standard in the last two seasons and I don’t know how many points they’ve taken. What Pep Guardiola has done with his players is remarkable and we are so close to it, in the vicinity so we feel it every day,” said the Norwegian.
Solskjaer had demanded his players react to their 4-0 loss to Everton on Sunday and United did begin the match with aggression, battling hard until City went ahead through Bernardo Silva in the 54th minute.
“We got a reaction and in the end we were beaten by a better team. But we got a reaction from fans and players and had a go. You can see the workrate was there, it wasn’t good enough though,” said the United boss.
“The players wanted to show they really care. The first half was positive, we were pleased at the break.
“Unfortunately, we conceded two sloppy goals in the second half that could have been avoided. Everyone can see what City have done over the last few years,” he said.
City strolled to victory in the second half with United flagging as they chased after a stream of precise passes from Guardiola’s side.
“There is a difference in quality. That is why they are top and we are where we are. They have set the standard. Living in Manchester we cannot be happy with that. It is up to us to close that gap and overtake them,” said Solskjaer
“Today you can’t say that any of them didn’t run. You could see clearly an intent and focus. We just need to keep working on it,” he said.
United have lost seven of their last nine games in all competitions, a run of form which contrasts markedly with the positive start to Solskjaer’s reign in December.
A Champions League spot remains within their grasp, however, with United sat in sixth place, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who they play on Sunday.
“In the short term, we are still in the race for the top four and we know we must deliver a good performance against Chelsea,” said Solskjaer.
Guardiola amazed by Manchester City’s response to European exit
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hailed his team for the way they have responded to the bitter blow of exiting from the Champions League with two crucial victories in their title bid.
City went out of the European competition on away goals to Tottenham Hotspur in dramatic fashion last week but dusted themselves off to beat Spurs in the Premier League on Saturday before Wednesday’s 2-0 Manchester derby win over rivals United sent them top of the league, one point ahead of Liverpool with three matches left.
“That is the most incredible detail for these players. You cannot imagine how tough it was to go out of this beautiful (Champions League) competition when we felt it was there, it was really, really tough,” Guardiola said.
“We had Tottenham at home, it wasn’t the best performance, but we had the sunshine, to stay alive in the Premier League… the pressure we had and the way we reacted. That is sometimes more important.
“Then we come here, our neighbours, the most prestigious team in England… winning with the pressure we had and being there, it was fantastic,” the Spaniard added.
The win over United was the 11th straight in the league for City as they follow-up last season’s record-breaking title win with another campaign of extraordinary quality and consistency.
“They (the players) have my incredible respect. It’s massive what they’ve done this season. It’s incredible the mentality and the strength, doing what we have to do. Man City has to be so, so proud of these players,” said the former Barcelona boss.
“We can go with our heads up everywhere, that’s why our fans were great in the Champions League against Tottenham in defeat, then three days later they support us more than they did in the Champions League, that’s because they know we don’t lie, we’re honest in the way we play.”
As a remarkable Premier League title race heads into the final three games, with City enjoying a one point lead over Liverpool, who have lost just once this season, Guardiola said both teams would be worthy champions. “Both teams deserve the title. But it can be just one. The team that is going to lose can’t have regrets because they have given everything,” he said.
City’s next task is an away game at Burnley on Sunday and Guardiola said that meant there was no time for celebration of the derby win.
“Normally with this kind of victory you can enjoy it the most but we have to be calm,” he said.
“I’ve told the players to rest tomorrow, relax, don’t talk too much, don’t watch TV, just eat well and get plenty of sleep because on Sunday we have another difficult game.”