Man United rout Newcastle as James, Martial, fringe players make case for long-term roles under Solskjaer

England… Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says all the right things to put pressure on Manchester City, but he could be forgiven for not believing it himself. Manchester United are back in second place in the Premier League after Sunday’s 3-1 win over Newcastle, but City’s 18th win over Arsenal on Sunday means Solskjaer has less than a one percent chance of staying on top.

The experts consider that in this case the probability of deterioration is the same.

– Report: United Route Newcastle men’s team finishes second

United have a lot of games left to play this season and a trophy in the FA Cup or European League would add lustre to a campaign in which Solskjaer is already certain to progress. But Solskjaer’s goal for the summer is to move closer to City, and in the meantime his players are playing their part in the camp for what the Norwegians hope will be the next step.

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Newcastle, on the other hand, are slacking off and are just three points off bottom spot after their eighth defeat in ten games, adding to the pressure on Steve Bruce. Solskjaer’s day ended on a positive note. She began by announcing that Nicky Butt and Mark Dempsey would be needed on the bench after some of her staff were forced into isolation under COVID-19 protocols.

We have good staff elsewhere, Solskjaer said afterwards. Of course it was a different preparation for the boys, but that’s the situation we’re in. We have to be ready.

We had the most ball possession in the first half, but we didn’t create enough. We had to toughen up a little bit and we did in the second half.

I will never say [the title race] is over until it is over. You’ve seen so many examples of teams persevering, continuing to work, doing their job, and then something can happen. That’s not what we think about – we think about our own performance and our own games; that’s all we can control. We still have a lot to do and a lot to improve.

Daniel James (right) continued his comeback, scoring the second decisive goal in Man United’s victory over Newcastle at Old Trafford. Stu Forster/Getty Images

Solskjaer will want to help his young players – Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Scott McTominay and Aaron Van Bissaku – develop. His former experienced players, such as Bruno Fernandez and captain Harry Maguire, will help him. But there have already been talks between Solskjaer and his recruitment team about a plan for the summer transfer window, and the players who are already there have three months to prove that their positions do not need to be upgraded.

Club officials have made no attempt to hide the fact that the coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented fans from attending matches at Old Trafford for almost a year, has had an impact on finances, but Executive Vice President Ed Woodward and the Glazers will continue to allocate money for transfers. The question now is how Solskjaer will use it. There will be no upheaval as he prefers a gradual change of players, but as he approaches his second anniversary as permanent manager, the focus should be on how he will end the wait for the title.

Ask United fans what the team needs and you’ll find ready-made arguments for making everything from central defence to centre-forwards a priority.

Solskjaer won’t be happy on Sunday when his side conceded a goal after a speculative cross into the box and Allan St. Maximin’s side scored shortly after to bring the score to 1-1. It was the 32nd. The Championship goal they scored this season was the same as Fulham’s in 18 years. At the other end, Anthony Martial continued to struggle as a first-choice striker until he was replaced after 20 minutes. After scoring 17 league goals last season, the Frenchman has only scored four this year, including two in the 9-0 win over Southampton.

There is no doubt that Rashford will replace Solskjaer, but the English striker had a much more productive evening. He scored his first goal in a breathtaking running move and finished it off before his close contact and quick feet earned him a penalty against Fernandez, who scored his 22nd goal of the season. In between, Dan James scored his sixth goal in his last nine appearances for club and national team and his third in as many games for United.

James, a 23-year-old winger, should have been patient this season, but he justifies Solskjaer’s decision to turn down loan offers from Leeds United last summer and in January. Back in the team, James took the opportunity to show that he deserves to stay for the long haul. Others may not be so lucky.

Dan works hard, he’s a great guy on and off the field, said Solskjaer, who also gave his debut to 17-year-old academy graduate Shola Shoretire. He knows he was close on several occasions. When you score as many goals as you do now, the confidence has to be incredible.

Then, with the energy he has, the X-factor and the pace, he gives us something that must be hard to play with if you’re a defender. It was a very good week for him.

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