Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has urged his Manchester United players to respond positively to the pressure they are facing as questions on his own future at Old Trafford continue.
The international break has seen several reports suggest it is a question of when, not if, Solskjaer is replaced after a run of four Premier League defeats in six — including chastening home losses to Liverpool and Manchester City.
But the 48-year-old painted a picture of business as usual at the club as he said the last fortnight had afforded him and his players time for a reset.
“Of course I’ve been in contact and communicated with the club as I normally do all the time,” said Solskjaer, who spent some of the break in Norway while allowing a number of players not on international duty to visit family abroad.
“It’s been a long international break but one we’ve used to our benefit as we feel there’s been a good response from the players and they are ready for the Watford game.”
The defeats to rivals Liverpool and City — by a combined scoreline of 7-0 on home turf — brought a chorus of criticism which hardly dimmed during the last fortnight, but it is something Solskjaer wants his players to feed off.
“We know the poor run of form puts ourselves under pressure but that pressure should be a joy,” he said.
“It should be something that makes us a better team and makes every player perform at their best level.”
Asked directly if he felt safe in his job and if the club remained united, Solskjaer responded: “Yeah. The players, the staff, myself and the club, we are all working towards one goal and that’s for this team to improve and get better results.
“The fans are still supporting the team and the club. They’ve been through this period and backed this time through the rebuild.
“You know when you lose a game you’re always disappointed and under pressure. We’ve communicated well and openly and honestly.
“There’s one game now that matters but also there’s what goes on after that. We’re all refreshed, this week has been really good in training and we’re ready for tomorrow.”
The 2-0 derby defeat to City two weeks ago was much more one-sided than the scoreline suggested — with the match stats painting a similar picture to the 5-0 loss to Liverpool a fortnight earlier.
But Solskajer insisted he and his staff had been working to correct the problems identified.
“Sometimes the first thing you want to do after a defeat is get back on the training ground and work on things, but I think this international break has been a good time for us to refresh our minds,” he said.
“My staff have been working really hard to get everyone ready. We’ve worked really hard, corrected a few things, prioritised a couple of things that we needed to improve and I’m sure we’ll see a reaction.”
Responding to reports on Thursday that Jesse Lingard’s contract talks had broken down with the England midfielder looking to leave the club, Solskjaer said: “Jesse is training really hard, really well, and he’s ready and available. Definitely he’s disappointed he hasn’t played more of course.
“With regards to his contract situation and the talks, I’ve not been in those very closely. For me, Jesse is still part of this squad, an important part, and he gives energy and quality to the group every day.
“Every player wants to play as much as possible. The thing with Jesse and all my players, they all work really hard, I can’t fault the attitude and they’re ready when called upon. Jesse has done well when he’s played for us and with all the games coming up he knows he’s going to play a part.”