Ole Gunnar Solskjær has denied Manchester United’s poor home record is a mental issue despite the team winning all their away matches.
United’s 3-2 victory at Sheffield United on Thursday was a sixth successive Premier League away win. Yet they have won only once at home, against West Brom, losing three times and drawing twice there.
Solskjær said: “I don’t think it’s a mental issue. It can’t be because there are no fans [home or away]. We should be more used to the pitch as well as the surroundings [at home] and environment. Sometimes it’s down to fine margins, who gets the first goal, how the opposition set up.”
United have conceded the first goal in each league away match. At Old Trafford they have lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace, 6-1 to Tottenham, and 1-0 to Arsenal, drawing 0-0 with Chelsea and Manchester City.
The manager hinted the expansive style of Leeds, who visit on Sunday, will suit United. “We’ll play a team who will make it a hard game for us but also maybe an open game,” he said.
United have not faced Leeds in the top flight for almost 17 years, Solskjær a late replacement in that 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in February 2004. “It’s been too long,” he said. “I know how much it means for our supporters and our club. It’s a different type of Leeds coming up with a coach [Marcelo Bielsa] who has really done a great job with them and they will test us to the limit.”
On Saturday it will be two years since Solskjaer replaced José Mourinho, initially as caretaker. He is reluctant to assess his progress. “I hate talking about what I’ve done and where we’re at – I don’t enjoy that bit. I always look forward and I know there’s a lot of work to be done still to get to the standard and level I want. That’s what we’re working for every single day. I’ve really enjoyed these two years.”
Bielsa has fond memories of a previous trip to Old Trafford but the Leeds coach will draw upon different recollections to inspire his players as they prepare to resume hostilities with Manchester United.
He was in charge of Athletic Bilbao when they knocked Alex Ferguson’s side out of the 2011-12 Europa League, laying the groundwork for progression to the quarter-finals with a 3-2 victory at United. While Bielsa cherished the reminder of what took place eight years ago, he is not thinking about using it as a tool to inspire his Leeds players.
Instead, he plans to discuss memories of the fierce rivalries he has encountered in his career, and at the forefront of his mind is the one between his old club Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario in his native Argentina.
“The memories are many,” Bielsa said of Bilbao’s triumph at Old Trafford. “Initially to the players who produced the performance to the 8,000 Basque fans who attended the game, the image of them being installed to the right hand side of me, I have it installed in my memory.
“That triumph is in the memory of all the Athletic fans and what it has to do with me is it solidified the affection and the link I have with the Athletic fans and the Basque people.
“But I was part of a victory and this victory is less for the protagonists and more for the fans. “If I had to make a reference of a big rivalry, I would use one of personal experience through the ones I experienced as a Newell’s fan or player against Rosario.
“Leeds doesn’t ignore what it means to play such a game and we’re prepared to adapt to the characteristics that this game will demand. I’ve been here for 2½ years now and I know the immediate history of the club.”
Leeds go into the game at Old Trafford with no new injury concerns following their 5-2 victory over Newcastle in midweek, drawing a line under back-to-back defeats and claiming their first home win in six attempts.
Centre-backs Robin Koch and Diego Llorente are expected to remain sidelined but Pablo Hernandez made his return from injury off the bench at Elland Road on Wednesday. The midfielder has only made two starts this season and had just eight minutes to make an impression against the Magpies but he still provided the assists for Leeds' last two goals.
“For any player it is difficult for them to be a substitute but the prestigious players and those who are idols, it is even more difficult,” Bielsa said. “Before the start of the competition, nobody can be guaranteed how many minutes they all play. We all understand it is this way and there’s no doubt it is difficult to put into practice in a harmonious way.
“Without doubt it is very difficult to manage this.”
Leeds leapfrogged Newcastle to move up to 13th in the table after overcoming Steve Bruce’s side. Asked about their progress so far in their first season back in the top flight after so many years away, Bielsa added: “Seventeen points [from 13 matches] is a decent amount but it wouldn’t have been an injustice to have a few more.” – Guardian and agencies