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EXCLUSIVE Paul McGrath: Manchester United not title contenders - cup win is Ole's best shot at glory

League position is fine but Man United really need some silverware


Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are key men. Photo: Michael Regan/PA Wire

Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are key men. Photo: Michael Regan/PA Wire

Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are key men. Photo: Michael Regan/PA Wire

Welcome to the Premier League nobody wants to win.

Liverpool drop points to West Brom and Newcastle. Spurs let points slip away in draws, too.Leicester City miss a chance to go second and Chelsea lose three away matches. Everton are playing well again, but only after a bad spell. And on and on it goes.

In the middle of it all, Manchester United have managed a good run of wins and draws in domestic football.

Even if those very poor European displays against PSG and RB Leipzig are still strong in the memory.

But for every fine performance by the Red Devils in the Premier League - such as the 6-2 win over Leeds - there's a dreadful effort, such as the first-half at Southampton and the scrambled, deflected, injury-time winner over Wolves last Wednesday.

Now Edinson Cavani, one of Manchester United's bright spots this season, is in the middle of a three-match ban and will miss the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester City.


Solskjaer can challenge in Cup

Solskjaer can challenge in Cup

Solskjaer can challenge in Cup

It means manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be less easily able to rotate his strike force as the big games come up thick and fast for the Old Trafford outfit.

Solskjaer will be hoping that the rest of his strike force can put in two or three good performances before the Uruguayan can return to give him options.

Why are so many players and teams struggling to put decent performances in from game to game?

For me, the obvious answer is that players cannot lift themselves every four days or so to play in what is a glorified public park.

Yes, the first few matches 'behind closed doors' would have been special and interesting for the players.

Now I suspect that England's professionals are getting fed up with rattling around in empty stadiums.

They want to feed off the shot of adrenalin that comes from playing in front of 40,000 baying fans - whether they are with you or against you.

It is surely soulless for the players to be trying to do their best, but hearing no cheering or encouragement from the stands all around them.

For me, that is the biggest issue now - but given the way the virus is not being contained at the moment - I don't see supporters coming back into Britain's football grounds any time soon.

The players are going to have to learn to get on with it, for at least the next two months anyway.

A lesser issue is the fact that very few clubs had a proper pre-season, in terms of weeks together on the training ground.

And no team had a real pre-season in terms of getting in good friendly games to work on their match fitness.

It is notable how many players are going down with muscle injuries in the last 15 minutes of games.

Teams never really got up to proper 100 per cent match fitness as the campaign began.

And such is the programme of fixtures over the last fortnight that every training session in that time can only have been a recovery one, to help the players get ready for the next match,

I know there is some talk of a break for a fortnight to try and get any trace of Covid out of dressing rooms.

Maybe there is a case for that break to happen.

And also allowing it to be used to get teams up to full fitness.

Because there are obvious signs of lethargy among players who are flying in one game and then way off the pace in the next a few days later.

That's a fitness issue, mental as well as physical.

Perhaps, too, the sheer toll of games is catching up with clubs.

Remember this season will end as it normally does, towards the end of May.

But it started in mid-September, not mid-August. Basically, every club is trying to play the same number of games in a season that is a month shorter than normal

And that's proving a problem for the clubs with European commitments.

They are also the ones struggling, week on week, near the top of the table, and, of course, they are the clubs where nearly every player is needed with his country during an international break.

Next Saturday Manchester United play Watford in the third round of the FA Cup - and, in different circumstances, it could have been the defining game in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tenure at the club.

This same weekend 31 years ago the 'later-to-be-great' Alex Ferguson was in fear of being sacked as Old Trafford chief when a goal by Mark Robins against Nottingham Forest saw them squeak into the fourth round of England's famous club competition.

The rest, as they say, is history.

United and Ferguson went on to lift the trophy, then the European Cup Winners Cup the following season before adding to his trophy haul with the League Cup in 1992.

One year later they won the first English Premier League and became the dominant force in the game for years to come.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there for the glory years as I had signed for Aston Villa in 1989 - but I still feel the club is part of my bones and I love to see them do well.

Manchester United's current place in the table insulates Solskjaer from fear of the sack next Saturday night.

But the club needs a piece of silverware soon and they cannot simply discard the FA Cup by putting out a 'B' team. This is a match Ole will want to win.

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