Ole Gunnar Solskjær has challenged Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez to up their game as the out-of-sorts stars close in on a Manchester United return.
The post-José Mourinho era has got off to a superb start under the Norwegian, with the mauling of Cardiff followed by a comprehensive win against Huddersfield on St Stephen’s Day.
Paul Pogba has shone under new management, with the previously marginalised midfielder stepping up to the plate and showing just why United forked out a then world-record fee to bring him back in 2016.
Now Solskjær has challenged floundering Lukaku and Sánchez to follow the World Cup winner’s example, even if the caretaker manager dismissed the suggestion that the Frenchman’s improved performances were down to him.
“I think you put it the wrong way, because I cannot do anything for their performances on the pitch,” Solskjær said. “Paul has done it himself, the players have done the performances.
“My chats with Anthony (Martial), Romelu, Alexis, whoever...(they have) not felt that they cannot produce their best of football.
“I’m here to guide them, help them on the path and then it’s up to them to do it on the pitch.
“I don’t agree that I have done that with Paul and I can do that with Romelu and Alexis.
“It’s up to them when they get a chance, that’s the name of the game when you are a footballer. You’ve got to do it yourself...you want help from your team-mates and your manager.
“I give them some guidelines, of course, there has been loads of talk about the expression, freedom of expression, but that’s how I’ve always been as a manager.
“You can’t tell all the players what to do in that position, they are here for a reason.
“They are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, their creativity and just enjoy playing for this club because that is the best time of your life.
“But it’s not bad a bad time being a manager either for a little while either!”
Solskjær is clearly enjoying life at the helm and Sunday’s visit of Bournemouth offers a decent chance to continue his winning start.
Lukaku and Sánchez will be assessed ahead of the match after missing the first two matches of the Norwegian’s reign, with the former given leave due to a private matter and the Chilean returning from a hamstring injury.
They are due to train on Friday along with Martial — who scored against Cardiff but missed Stephen’s Day through illness — but Chris Smalling still faces weeks on the sidelines.
“Smalling’s got a sore foot, so I don’t think we’ll see him until the New Year anyway,” Solskjær said. “Maybe not before Spurs, probably, around about that time but you never know.”
Fellow defender Marcos Rojo is also closing in on a return to full fitness, bolstering a side whose inability to keep clean sheets is an area that Solskjær is focusing on as United look to cut back the eight-point gap to the top four.
“There are things we need to improve, and we are in this position for a reason,” he said.
“We’ve not been consistent enough, we have not been able to keep clean sheets, we have not scored enough goals, and we have conceded two goals at set pieces now.
“The open part of defending has been good, but we need to get back to the habit of not conceding goals.
“There’s loads of things. In a team, you always look to things to improve on.”
But the captaincy will not be among the changes made by Solskjær.
Antonio Valencia has only made seven appearances for United since he was given the captain’s armband in the summer and speculation is building over his future.
“Antonio is the captain when he’s fit,” Solskjær added. “When he’s playing, he’ll wear the armband.
“He’s going through a couple of tough sessions now to get him ready for the busy period coming up.
“When you look at him, there are not many better right-backs going forward with his abilities, so, yeah, you’ll see him wear his band.”