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squeaky bum time Solskjaer can give Man City the title jitters as Pep's quadruple dream goes up in smoke

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Manchester United's Marcus Rashford shakes hands with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford shakes hands with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford shakes hands with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

OLE Gunnar Solskjaer knows the mission may well prove to be impossible.

But victory over Burnley today would cut the gap on Manchester United’s noisy neighbours to eight points with six games of the Premier League season left.

Manchester City – whose quadruple bid was floored by Chelsea last night – have been champions-elect for weeks, yet Solskjaer only needs to look back through the records of his own club – and two famous title failures – to know he is not simply indulging in wishful thinking.

Miracles, or disasters in the case of United, do happen.

Take season 1997-98, when Alex Ferguson’s men were eight points ahead of Arsenal with nine games to go.

But in the next six of those, they drew with Liverpool and Newcastle United and lost to the Gunners, who went on to win the title by a point and collect the Double as well.

In season 2011-12, they were eight points in front of City with eight games to go, yet they lost to Wigan Athletic, drew 4-4 with Everton and, in the third last game of the season, were beaten 1-0 by City at the Etihad.

In the final game of the season, they won 1-0 away to Sunderland and for several minutes thought they had actually achieved what would then have been Ferguson’s 13th triumph.

He had to wait until the following year to reach that record mark.

For deep into injury time at the Etihad, Sergio Aguero scored the winner in a heart- stopping 3-2 victory over QPR that gave City and manager Roberto Mancini their first-ever Prem crown.

Up in the North East of England, there was only heartbreak for United that day.

Now Solskjaer has his eyes on payback for that moment and insists his ambitions are not merely a flight of fancy.

United are all but certain of finishing second, yet he knows that beating Sean Dyche’s side might just create some uncertainty on the other side of town, where a third title in four years for Pep Guardiola is being taken almost for granted.

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Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Granada

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Granada

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Granada

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Liverpool were also being talked of in the same way going into the New Year of 2019 holding a nine-point advantage, yet they were eventually caught by City.

The Old Trafford boss declared: “Every game is important to Manchester United and we aren’t going to just give points away easily.

“Can we catch City? Stranger things have happened in football. Bigger leads have been given away.

“Of course, they have been very strong, and it’s probably too much to hope and ask for.

“But as long as we do our job, then that’s the main thing.

“We have got to win every game in the league. We know that. After that, we can only hope that something happens to City.

“We can’t control what they do. We’ve got to play it one game at a time, because we’ve got some difficult matches left ourselves.

“But we can control them.”

Solskjaer speaks with the optimism of a manager who has seen his side lose only one league game from their last 25.

And who can also point to teenager Mason Greenwood as someone who may have found his mojo again, just in time for what could be a dramatic run-in.

The 19-year-old, long considered as a future superstar as he came through the ranks, looked to have lost his way after shaming himself on his first trip with England last September.

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Man United's Mason Greenwood in action against Granada in the Europa League

Man United's Mason Greenwood in action against Granada in the Europa League

Man United's Mason Greenwood in action against Granada in the Europa League

He and Phil Foden were sent home for inviting two women into their hotel room and, thus, breaking Covid-19 restrictions in Reykjavik after they had both played in a 1-0 win.

Greenwood’s fellow City sinner Foden has since proved predictions right that he was also a fabulous talent in the making.

He was re-admitted to Southgate’s camp and even scored both goals in a 2-0 return win over Iceland, while the United player was dumped into England’s Under-21s.

What is more, Greenwood in what was his breakthrough season, scored 18 goals.

But, in the aftermath of Reykjavik, he has managed only four in 38 for United.

Yet, he goes into the clash with Burnley having scored three in his last five appearances and is once again playing with the exuberance of youth.

Solskjaer (inset) stressed: “He’s come through that difficult patch as a stronger person and a better player.

“Mason isn’t just a natural finisher – he’s a natural footballer.

“He is so smooth and he’s matured so much this season.

“You can see his body has developed and he’s getting stronger.

“His consistency is getting better and better, and he will start scoring more goals, that’s for sure.

“I have been really impressed and happy with his development this season.”

Greenwood is seen by many inside Old Trafford as the club’s centre-forward of the future despite the fact that he is lean-built and under six-foot tall.

Solskjaer says: “Maybe in the future he can play as a central striker, but I still think that’s a few years away.

“Being a centre-forward in the Premier League is probably the hardest position to play.

“At the moment, I think Mason is more suited to playing that wide role, dropping into pockets, finding space and running in behind.

“I don’t want him with his back to goal and having two centre-backs up his backside.

“I think we have found a good way to develop him, but he might end up as a No 9.”

Greenwood has also been guided through the difficult times by Edinson Cavani.

The Uruguayan may decide to leave this summer but he has done much to help Greenwood.

Solskjaer explained: “Playing with Edinson Cavani has been a top example for him.

“Edi leads by example, even though the language barrier has made it a bit difficult.

“But Mason and Edi have struck a very good relationship. I can see that Edi really appreciates Mason’s talent, his hunger and his willingness to learn.

“And, in Edinson Cavani, he is learning from one of the very best.

“It’s like when I speak about having Alex Ferguson as a manager. If I couldn’t learn from him, there was no point in going into management.

“If Mason, Marcus and Anthony can’t learn off Edinson, then they can’t learn from anyone. He is a very good example to every single one of them.”

Wise words indeed.

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