EPL

Solskjaer embraces high expectations as United prepare to take the next step

By Sports Desk August 05, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer understands the expectations at Old Trafford as well as anyone, and the Manchester United manager is leaning into them with the start of the season just over a week away. 

Now ready to move past a campaign that saw United finish a distant second to Manchester City in the league and fall to Villarreal in the Europa League final, Solskjaer is pleased with club's two key additions in the transfer window and optimistic about their chances this time around. 

With higher expectations comes more pressure, but after seeing his contract extended last month, Solskjaer is confident the club are on the right path. 

"You feel under pressure all the time," Solskjaer told ESPN. "At this club, with this responsibility, it's not just clinging onto your job; it's about the responsibility that's in my hands.

"We've got millions of fans, the players, the club, the staff... and the responsibility is on getting results. As long as you get results and improve, that's what I felt that we've improved all the time. As long as you can see improvement.

"We've gone from third to second [in the Premier League] and a lot closer in points, we've gone from three semi-finals to a final and one kick away from winning so it's about taking the next step now. That's the challenge."

Solskjaer said he expects United to enter the final month of the season in contention for their first league title since 2013 and hopefully deep into another cup run as well. 

After adding Jadon Sancho and agreeing a deal in principal for Raphael Varane, the manager believes United can move past Manchester City with "maximum effort, maximum season and maximum sacrifice" from everyone at Old Trafford. 

Even that would not guarantee a trophy, particularly given the level of competition. 

"For me, it feels like this season coming up is one of the strongest Premier League seasons," he said.

"Of course it's been City and Liverpool fighting it out for a few years. I feel us and Chelsea have spent well and worked well and we should look at ourselves as potential challengers, but it's potential.

"The first game is the most important, then the first block of games, and then keeping that momentum."

After a slow start to the last Premier League campaign, Solskjaer is counting on United getting out of the gate at a better pace, particularly once Sancho and Varane are integrated into the squad. 

While the high-profile newcomers will be the centre of attention early on, Solskjaer is pleased that the dressing room is full of players he believes are ready to handle the unique challenges of playing for United. 

"We want to be successful," he said. "We want to start winning trophies and we've laid the foundation, and I feel now that the foundation has been laid on the training ground, in the transfer market and with the work that the coaches and the staff that everyone has been doing with the players.

"I think we've made [the players] more robust and ready to face the challenges of a Man United player. That's not the same as playing in any other team and I think everyone that's been here or arrived here, they know the demands and expectations are higher."

Solskjaer singled out the addition of Edinson Cavani to the mix as a key factor in building that atmosphere, saying the Uruguayan has "shown the way for many" in his time with the club.

He also thought back to his own former team-mates like Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Gary Neville as players who embraced the situation.

"There are so many good players out there, but some of them don't handle the pressure," he said. "Some do. Some thrive under pressure, some enjoy it. ...

"You have to enjoy it -- if you don't enjoy being a Man United player, you can play somewhere mid-table."

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