Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left fuming at referee Stuart Attwell's failure to award Manchester United a penalty in Sunday's 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

In a game that saw the two sides largely cancel each other out, United were controversially denied an early opportunity to take the lead.

A Marcus Rashford free-kick was parried back into the danger zone by Edouard Mendy, with Mason Greenwood and Callum Hudson-Odoi subsequently drawn towards it.

The Chelsea man's hand was raised and came into contact with the ball, with the VAR urging Attwell to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

However, he stuck to his initial decision of not awarding a penalty and it left Solskjaer bemused.

When asked by Sky Sports if he felt United should have had a penalty, Solskjaer said: "Yep, 100 per cent."

Then asked if he could understand Attwell's decision, he added: "No, not at all, especially when they stop it [the game in order to review the incident] and he walks across to watch it.

"For me, you can see it's a handball but you think it's our player who does it and they [the Chelsea bench] are shouting it's handball for our player and then look at the video and it's taken two points away from us."

United left-back Luke Shaw claimed in another post-match interview with Sky Sports that Attwell had told captain Harry Maguire awarding the penalty "would cause a lot of talk about it after".​

Although clearly aware of the accusation, Solskjaer did not explicitly repeat it, saying: "I can't say, because that's not going to be good for him [Attwell]. Of course it is [concerning]."

Shaw's exact words were then put to Solskjaer and again he expressed dismay, then going on to vent his anger at pre-match comments published on Chelsea's website that highlighted Maguire's recent brushes with VAR, suggesting such content can influence referees.

He added: "Exactly. Well, I didn't say it [Shaw's comments], so I don't want to cause controversy, but it's not right, is it?

"It's all this outside influence, even the VAR talk before the game here, that's cheeky, when they put that on the website – that's influencing referees.

"Go back and look at the website. You can read it, what they are saying about controversy and Harry Maguire – it's putting pressure on the referees for penalties against us."

There was an enticing Italian appetiser to Chelsea and Manchester United's lukewarm main course on Sunday.

Antonio Conte's Inter stretched their lead at the top of Serie A to seven points, beating Genoa 3-0 at San Siro thanks to goals from three former United players. They've now won 14 of their previous 17 league games and failed to score just once in that run. They will more than likely become champions for the first time since 2010 under Jose Mourinho, the last manager to deliver trophies at United and the most successful modern coach Chelsea have had.

Assessing the match at Stamford Bridge through the lens of another game in another country probably tells you enough about the quality of the contest.

With Leicester City having lost to Arsenal and Manchester City beating West Ham, this was a chance for United to consolidate second place in the table, and just maybe keep their title hopes from sputtering into ash. For Chelsea, earlier results meant this represented an opening into the top four and a means to close the gap to the Red Devils to three points, all while prolonging the Thomas Tuchel unbeaten streak to nine games.

They may not sound like the loftiest of ambitions, but this was not a game of ambition, or excitement, or precision. It was the coronavirus football calendar made flesh: frenetic, apprehensive, with a permeating feeling that things would, eventually, get better.

That Inter reference was not meant as a 'what if'. Conte's time at Chelsea was a success but the relationship had soured long before they parted ways. As for United, nobody could honestly claim they should have kept Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez, scorers of Inter's second and third goals. And while Romelu Lukaku continues to rampage through Serie A defences, United have become leading goalscorers in the Premier League this season without their old number nine, who had wanted to leave anyway.

Still, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, United have swapped potency for pragmatism when it comes to facing the 'big six'. It's made for soporific viewing: 0-0 twice against Chelsea, 0-1 and 0-0 against Arsenal, 0-0 against Liverpool, 0-0 and 0-2 (in the EFL Cup) against City. All their previous four such games have ended goalless. At least that 6-1 battering at home to Tottenham in October saw them score a penalty.

Solskjaer highlighted the need for more in "tighter games" in the build-up, but his message – and Tuchel's – was still contain first and attack later. Marcus Rashford's whirligig of a free-kick was as close to a goal as they came in the first half, beyond a penalty shout for a Callum Hudson-Odoi handball. Chelsea were scarcely more enterprising, but at least Olivier Giroud was a centimetre or two of scalp from heading a Hudson-Odoi cross on target.

There were flashes after the break. Mason Greenwood cracked a shot narrowly over, Scott McTominay planted one in Edouard Mendy's midriff, a curling right-foot shot from Fred drew an amused thumbs-up from his manager. At least he was smiling; even a grin seems beyond Anthony Martial at the moment, the striker touching the ball six times in his 11 minutes on the pitch.

Perhaps a goalless draw really was Solskjaer's plan all along: perhaps even the baby-faced assassin accepts City have long since killed the title competition. In that sense, moving a point above Leicester, maintaining the gap to Chelsea and stretching the club-record unbeaten away run to 20 league games is no disaster.

But is this the way to win titles again? The way to get at City at the Etihad Stadium next week? The so-called United Way?

Manchester United lost further ground at the top of the Premier League table as they drew 0-0 at Chelsea on Sunday, Thomas Tuchel's men benefiting from a contentious call relating to a potential penalty against them.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side came into the weekend 10 points adrift of pacesetters Manchester City, but this draw coupled with the leaders' 2-1 win at West Ham on Saturday saw the gap increase to 12 as Pep Guardiola closes in on another Premier League title.

While a win for United at Stamford Bridge would not have changed a great deal, they will likely feel hard done by, as Callum Hudson-Odoi escaped unpunished when handling the ball in his own area during the first period.

Both sides had their chances after the interval but neither managed to apply the finishing touch, meaning for the first time in the five meetings between Tuchel and Solskjaer, the away manager could not leave with the spoils.

A fast and furious first half saw the two teams largely cancel each other out with their comparable high-pressing setups and solid defensive work, but United were controversially denied the chance to take an early lead.

Marcus Rashford's free-kick stung the hands of Edouard Mendy before dropping between Hudson-Odoi and Mason Greenwood, with the ball clearly hitting the hand of the Chelsea wing-back, yet referee Stuart Attwell refused to award a penalty even after going to the pitchside monitor.

Hudson-Odoi had a more positive impact just after the half-hour mark when Olivier Giroud nearly met his early cross, though chances at either end were a rarity otherwise.

Chelsea were straight on the front foot after the break, with David de Gea forced into a reflex save by Hakim Ziyech before Luke Shaw vitally blocked the rebound from Reece James – introduced at the interval for the injured Hudson-Odoi.

But United soon woke up again, with Greenwood shooting agonisingly wide of the top-left corner and Scott McTominay testing Mendy after a well-placed cut-back from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Timo Werner was denied a tap-in by Victor Lindelof and McTominay squandered a counter-attacking opportunity in the latter stages, with the game ultimately destined to end goalless.

Marcus Rashford was tasked with leading Manchester United's attack at Stamford Bridge, while Timo Werner dropped to the Chelsea bench.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared on Friday that he was unsure if Cavani, who has had a positive impact this season since arriving on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, would overcome a knock which has kept him out since mid-February.

Paul Pogba was a confirmed absentee, however, and neither player featured as Solskjaer made five changes to his United team.

Rashford, who has been involved in seven goals in all competitions against Chelsea (five goals, two assists) – more than against any other side in his career – was instead given the central role that Anthony Martial had started in against Real Sociedad on Thursday.

That was one of five changes made by Solskjaer, who also brought back Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and David de Gea.

United are unbeaten in 19 Premier League away games (W13 D6), a run that began with a 2-0 win at Chelsea in February 2020. 

This is the Red Devils' longest unbeaten away run in their top-flight history, though their previous longest of 17 between December 1998-September 1999 ended with a 5-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, and Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea team have been in strong form.

After a frustrating draw with Southampton last week, Chelsea beat Atletico Madrid in the Champions League thanks to Olivier Giroud's stunning winner.

Giroud is rewarded with a start up top, with Tuchel making three alterations.

One of the players to drop out is Werner, who ended his long goalscoring drought in Chelsea's last home game – a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United.

Hakim Ziyech is in to partner Mason Mount – who has scored two goals in his last three Premier League games, as many as in his previous 21 in the competition – behind Giroud, with N'Golo Kante replacing Jorginho in midfield and Ben Chilwell coming in at left wing-back.

Opposite Chilwell, Callum Hudson-Odoi retains his place, despite the youngster being subbed on and subbed off in the draw with Southampton.

The away team has won all four of the previous managerial matches between Tuchel and Solskjaer, with all of those games taking place between United and PSG in the Champions League.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel revealed Paris Saint-Germain tried to sign Bruno Fernandes before he joined Manchester United with devastating impact last year.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea's Premier League clash with rivals United on Sunday, Tuchel explained that during his time as PSG head coach from 2018 to late 2020, the Ligue 1 champions tried to lure Fernandes to Paris.

The Portugal international was captain of Sporting CP at the time, but eventually signed for United in January 2020 and has since scored 34 goals in 60 appearances across all competitions.

"With my first sporting director in Paris, Antero Henrique, a Portuguese sporting director, and he knew [Fernandes] very well," Tuchel told reporters.

"We fought hard to have a connection to him and to bring him to our team. I got made aware of him more in detail, so we watched more and more games about him and followed him and tried to be in touch with him to make it happen.

"Obviously, he decided [to sign for Manchester United] and I was never personally in touch with him, but we tried and he went another way. [It is] bad for us that we have to play against him."

Fernandes looms as a key factor in Sunday's clash against fifth-placed Chelsea, with both sides fighting to make the top four and secure Champions League berths.

The 26-year-old currently sits second for assists in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign with 10, only one behind Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne and Tottenham's Harry Kane.

Fernandes provided his 10th Premier League assist of the season against Newcastle United last time out, becoming only the fourth different United player to reach double figures for both goals (15) and assists in a single Premier League campaign, after Eric Cantona (three times), Dwight Yorke (1998-99) and Wayne Rooney (five times).

Tuchel has been extremely impressed by Fernandes' impact since joining United, leading the club to a top-four spot last season before helping them move up to second this campaign.

"The impact he has had since he arrived at Manchester United is indescribable and unbelievable," Tuchel said.

"To come from Portugal, from a competitive team, a big club but not from the strongest league and stepping in a year to one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and the strongest league in Europe and to have this kind of impact, I have nothing but the biggest respect for this guy.

"It is outstanding. He is one of the best midfielders in the world, attacking midfielders, and he has a huge, huge impact and to have this as a single person in football, you must be absolutely top level because this is almost impossible.

"But he has such a big influence on their game, on their attacking game and that it is a big key to defend against him, to be around him and close to him and he is a key player of Man Utd in a way that is outstanding."

United are second in the Premier League, 13 points behind runaway leaders City but six clear of Chelsea.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire has been impressed by Thomas Tuchel's work at Chelsea but is determined to "spoil" the Blues' unbeaten run when the sides meet on Sunday.

Chelsea have drawn two and won six of their eight matches in all competitions since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in the Stamford Bridge dugout on January 26, scoring 10 goals and conceding just twice.

Tuchel's men have moved to within six points of second-placed United, who enter the clash at Stamford Bridge on a club-record 19-game unbeaten streak on their travels in the Premier League.

That run started with a victory in this fixture 12 months ago and Maguire is hopeful of picking up another triumph in west London this weekend, with United going in search of back-to-back league wins at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 1995.

"Chelsea's obviously going to be a tough game but we went there last year and won and we will be looking to do that again," he told the club's official website. 

"They are keeping their position very nicely and build up really well and not conceding many goals, so it is a good start. We are hoping to spoil that.

"It is a great reaction [to the change of manager]. They are a great group of players with tons of talent and the money they spent in the summer, they are starting to gel, starting to tick, but we have got to look at ourselves, first and foremost.

"We go into the game full of confidence, full of belief. We will make sure we play to the ability of what we are capable of and go and get the three points."

Maguire was an unused substitute for the goalless draw with Real Sociedad on Thursday - a result that saw United advance to the last 16 of the Europa League as 4-0 aggregate winners.

The England international has started every league game for United this term and is eager to help his side prolong their eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

"Every three or four days you've got to be focused and mentally prepared to go and get the three points," he said.

"You have got to be prepared to keep winning, winning, winning and finding that consistency to enable us to get to where we want to be. If you want to get to where we want to be, you have got to be consistent."

United have won their last three away games against Chelsea in all competitions, having also prevailed at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup and EFL Cup, but they have never previously won four on the spin.

Donny van de Beek is back in contention to feature after missing United's last two matches through injury, but Scott McTominay has been ruled out while Edinson Cavani and Daniel James are major doubts.

Lionel Messi is reportedly open to staying at Barcelona, but the LaLiga giants have work to do.

Messi, 33, stayed at Barca after sensationally requesting to leave ahead of this season.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the campaign, leading to more talk over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OPEN TO BARCELONA STAY

Messi is open to staying at Barcelona and is prioritising the sporting project over the economic offer, according to Marca.

The report says Barca strengthening their squad could convince Messi, who has been linked to Manchester City.

Signing City forward Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino would help Barca's position in their bid to re-sign the superstar.

ROUND-UP

- With Real Madrid linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, such a deal could lead to questions over Eden Hazard. AS reports Mbappe joining Madrid could lead to an exit for Hazard, who has struggled with injuries since joining the LaLiga giants.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Raphael Varane's future. AS reports Madrid are prepared to listen to offers for Varane ahead of next season if they cannot agree to a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in 2022. Manchester United have been linked with Varane, who is valued at £60.7million (€70m).

- Harry Kane has again starred for Tottenham this season. The Telegraph reports the forward, who is contracted until 2024, is set to stay at Spurs for at least another campaign.

- Amid suggestions Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is too expensive, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Eurosport reports Villarreal's Pau Torres may be a more realistic target due to his reported release clause of around £43m (€49.6m).

- Alexandre Lacazette seems set for an Arsenal exit. The Mirror reports Monaco are targeting the forward ahead of next season.

Those Chelsea fans who reacted angrily to Frank Lampard's sacking appeared to settle upon a conclusion when it came to what the problem was at Stamford Bridge.

The youth products given the opportunity to shine in the Chelsea first team by the club's all-time leading goalscorer were not the problem. They were giving supporters a bright vision of the future and a recognisable identity.

Players acquired at great expense from abroad who seemed to fill no role in particular and clogged up the numbers in the squad, there was the problem.

You might say, in this analysis, the problem was players like Mateo Kovacic.

However, the former Real Madrid midfielder has been a mainstay since Thomas Tuchel replaced Lampard at the helm.

A coach who has gained a reputation for being standoffish with players over the course of his career has admittedly fallen head over heels.

"I love him,” Tuchel said after the win over Newcastle United earlier this month. "It is very easy [to love Kovacic].

"You can wake the guy up at 3am and he will be at Cobham [Chelsea's training ground] at 3.15 ready to give everything."

Previously, Chelsea fans might have taken this to mean Kovacic was being selected because he is a light sleeper who lives locally.

The Croatia international lacks the range of passing with which Jorginho is blessed, nor does he have N'Golo Kante's combative streak or the creative zest of Mason Mount.

However, his quality in tight spaces and underrated dribbling ability is something Kovacic uses to fine effect. Tuchel, a tactician who places a primacy upon his team's positional play, has quickly identified his key man when it comes to shifting Chelsea up the field.

Among players in the Premier League to have attempted 40 or more dribbles this season, Kovacic has the highest success rate of 81 per cent, having rounded out 34 of his 42.

Across Europe's top five leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti is able to boast a better return of 41 out of 49 for 83.7 per cent.

Of players to have featured frequently in central midfield this season, only Manchester City duo Rodri and Bernardo Silva can better Kovacic's 368 carries – defined by Opta as a player moving the ball five metres or more – and 3,821.2 metres carry distance.

For carries ending with a completed pass, Kovacic is second on 309, behind Rodri (352) and a shade ahead of Silva (306).

Although he is yet to score in 31 appearances this season heading into a crunch weekend clash against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Kovacic is certainly eager to involve himself at the business end of the field when the opportunity arises – further underlining his credentials when it comes to progressing play.

No player in the Premier League this season has taken a shot having been involved in a build-up move more frequently than Kovacic (10).

If a few of those attempts fly in before the season is out to secure a top-four place and maybe even some silverware, Kovacic's popularity will surely reach far beyond the confines of Cobham and his not-so-secret admirer Tuchel.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is relishing the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford after being blown away by the late-career rejuvenation of the Swedish great.

Manchester United and Milan were drawn together in the Europa League last 16 on Friday, giving the second-tier competition a glamour tie.

A serious knee ligament injury sustained in April 2017, near the end of his first season with Manchester United, raised doubts about whether Ibrahimovic would play at the highest level again. He got fit enough to make a first-team return before heading off to LA Galaxy, seemingly to wind down his career in the United States.

Yet Ibrahimovic was not finished with European football and in December 2019 embarked on a second spell with Milan, which has surpassed the most generous of expectations.

Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in 40 games so far for the Rossoneri, including 16 in 20 appearances this season to help Milan mount a title challenge. In doing so, the 39-year-old has passed the 500-goal mark in his club career.

Milan's lead in the Scudetto race was reined in by Inter, who now lead the way in Serie A, but Ibrahimovic's impact has been seismic in Italy.

United loanee Diogo Dalot, who has played 19 games for Milan this season, may also be heading back to Manchester for the March 11 first leg as he is eligible for the tie.

"Zlatan, of course, I've been so impressed, I've got to say, by how his career has gone," United manager Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He had a career-threatening injury when he was here but came back from that and went to MLS, then came back to Milan and has really lifted them. They're on the up and have done really well this season.

"I've been so impressed by him, and Diogo we know. He went there to get some experience at a big club and he's learned a lot. He's played a lot more games this season, kept fit and, hopefully, we can give him some bother!"

Ibrahimovic hit 28 goals in 46 games in his first season at United, adding one more strike in seven games in the following season as he fought his way back to full fitness.

His United goals came at a rate of one every 139.1 minutes, compared to his stunning Milan average strike rate of 109.9 minutes per goal.

He has also boosted his big chance conversion rate from 35.7 per cent at United to 45 per cent with Milan.

Solskjaer, whose side face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday, may have wished for a kinder European draw, particularly as it came on the Norwegian's 48th birthday.

"It's a nice birthday gift, isn't it? To watch that draw!" he said. "We do have the tradition of making it hard for ourselves in draws.

"It's one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game. It's good for us to have these games to look forward to. This team needs challenges and we enjoy challenges and we embrace them.

"The tradition and history of AC Milan, it's a great club that we welcome and it's a great stadium that we go to there, and we're looking forward to it."

Thomas Tuchel is resigned to losing out in the fashion stakes to Olivier Giroud but he rhapsodised about the Frenchman giving Chelsea a winning edge ahead of a "huge" fixture.

Manchester United head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with the Red Devils still unbeaten on their Premier League travels this season.

Tuchel may be new to the Premier League but he is no stranger to United, having faced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

His PSG side twice lost to United at the Parc des Princes but won on both of their visits to Old Trafford.

"We hope we can turn this around and win at home," Tuchel said on Friday.

If Chelsea are to continue their impressive progress since Tuchel's January appointment, it may fall to the likes of Giroud to make the difference, just as he did with a spectacular overhead kick winner against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Sunday's Bridge battle could see Giroud on one side and Tuchel's former PSG frontman Edinson Cavani in the United ranks, both 34-year-old strikers with a point to prove.

"Look at them when they switch shirts - they are totally fit, their fitness is key," Tuchel said. "Oli is 100 per cent fit, zero body fat, the same as Edi.

"Edi is a player, like Oli, who as a number nine is always concerned about the team, always ready to suffer for the team, always ready to sacrifice and always ready to do runs to open spaces, always ready to defend with the team.

"This is the characteristic of them both and then in the box they're both excellent finishers, they have the experience, they don't get nervous, they have the composure.

"For me, their fitness and their self-discipline is key to their success."

Tuchel knows he cannot compete with the suave looks and man-about-town fashion style of Giroud, who he described as "a leader" within his squad.

"I try to close the gap," he said. "At the moment it's not possible because I arrived with only one suitcase, so there's no chance for me.

"I will have to trust you that the guy is top-notch and highest level. I will try to close the gap, so it's not embarrassing for Oli that I'm his coach."

Tuchel stopped short of promising Giroud a starting role against United, but he would clearly have no reservations about the striker's credentials for such an important game.

"He's used to playing a high rhythm, he's used to playing Premier League, and this helps him a lot to be on this level," Tuchel said.

"He's in a fantastic mood every day to push everybody around him, to win every little game we do in training and be very positive with everybody around him."

Chelsea will be without centre-back Thiago Silva, who has been absent for three weeks with a thigh injury but managed an individual training session on Friday and is making "big progress", according to Tuchel.

The Blues' boss was typically complimentary of a United side he knows well, declaring they can "hurt you any second with individual quality and speed".

Chelsea go into the game six points behind United, who head into the weekend in second place. The Blues went down 2-0 to United at Stamford Bridge last season and have not lost consecutive home Premier League games against the Red Devils since October 1995.

In all competitions, United have won their past three away games against Chelsea, winning in the FA Cup in February 2019, EFL Cup in October 2019 and Premier League in February 2020. They have never won four in a row away against Chelsea.

"If we get a win out of this game it will be huge for us," Tuchel added. "If they can a win it will be huge for them to put a difference between us, to increase the difference."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledges Manchester United must sharpen up in defence if they are to achieve their ambitions of winning major trophies. 

United eased into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday after a goalless draw with Real Sociedad at Old Trafford secured a 4-0 aggregate victory. 

It was their 16th clean sheet in all competitions this season, the third-most of any Premier League team, behind only Chelsea (19) and Manchester City (24). 

However, conceding goals has been a problem throughout 2020-21. The Red Devils have shipped 46 across all competitions – more than twice as many as City (20) – with 32 of those coming in the league, more than any other side presently in the top five. 

Although 11 of those were conceded in United's first three league matches of the season – an aberration Solskjaer put down to a lack of pre-season preparations – their defensive frailties have cost them valuable points despite scoring 53 goals, the most in the top flight, and 85 in all competitions, as many as rivals City. 

Ahead of Sunday's clash with Chelsea, who are unbeaten under new head coach Thomas Tuchel, Solskjaer highlighted the need to become more resolute at the back in order to close the gap to Pep Guardiola's men, who are top by 10 points.

The United manager told reporters: "We're on a good path. We feel we have improved but we're nowhere near where we want to be, and that's higher up the table, winning trophies. So, the hunger in the group and the mentality in the group is good, and that's the main thing now: that we keep on improving. 

"We know we've scored quite a few goals; of course, we need to be a better team defensively. 

"Certainly, the amount of goals we've conceded, even though we had 11 in the first three games, those three games almost don't count in my head because we were so far away from a Man United team in the preparation, no pre-season. 

"Even then, we've conceded too many goals, so we need to improve on that, definitely. And win tighter games: we've had many games against, you know, City, Chelsea, nil-nil, Liverpool nil-nil, so get the goals in those games. 

"We just have to focus and tick one game off at a time. The [next] three games are massive. We've got Chelsea just behind us, City a way in front of us, and we can't let them run further away if we have ambitions of catching them and we can't give Chelsea too much hope of catching us, either. 

"It's still 38 games for every team, so if you get a run, either good or bad, it might impact you. Of course, as a group and a culture, bouncing back for us after a couple of setbacks we've had, it's an important period. 

"But our group mentality is really good, and we look forward to these games. We know Thomas has come in, it's changed a little bit at Chelsea, so it's going to be a great challenge for us. 

"You can see the results, the stats, the possession they've had. They keep teams away from their goal, keep the possession. He's done really well. 

"It's never easy coming into a season halfway through, so he must be pleased as well. Hopefully, we can stop that run. That's my job now." 

With captain Harry Maguire rested, Eric Bailly produced a strong performance against Sociedad alongside Victor Lindelof, making three clearances and winning all four of his contested duels. 

"Both of them played well, so Eric and Victor and Harry, three very good centre-backs that I can rely on, and Axel [Tuanzebe] as well. I've got four to choose from," said Solskjaer, who has a decision to make for his team against Chelsea. 

"Sometimes it's the opposition, sometimes it's the form, sometimes it's little things. I think the two of them will keep on playing and they might be playing together as well." 

Anthony Martial endured another goalless outing, producing only one shot on target. The 25-year-old has now failed to score in 14 of his past 15 appearances in all competitions and has not found the net in his six games since scoring twice in the 9-0 demolition of Southampton. 

"Anthony knows what we want and Anthony's working really hard to do well for the team. That's what's pleasing me," Solskjaer added. 

"I see him every day in training. He's not going to sit down and wait for things to happen; he knows he has to make things happen for himself. 

"We encourage him, coach him, and we know he's got this quality and class. Everyone goes through a little difficult patch at the moment, or at times, and Anthony, I think we saw tonight, he's working harder and that's the main thing."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will renew acquaintances with Manchester United after the Red Devils were drawn against his Milan side in the Europa League last 16.

Sweden great Ibrahimovic spent just under two seasons with the Red Devils under Jose Mourinho, joining in July 2016 and departing in March 2018 to move to LA Galaxy.

During his first campaign at Old Trafford, Ibrahimovic missed out on United's Europa League final triumph against Ajax due to a serious knee injury and he will now aim to be the downfall of his former employers in this season's competition.

United have been eliminated by Milan in European knockout ties four times, the most of any side along with Real Madrid.

Arsenal, finalists as recently as 2019, will hope there is no sense of deja vu in their tie against Olympiacos. Mikel Arteta's side suffered a shock exit against the Greek outfit at the last-32 stage last season.

Mourinho is out to win the competition for a second time as a coach, and his Tottenham side face Dinamo Zagreb, while Roma have a tricky contest against Shakhtar Donetsk – who were the last winners of the tournament in its previous guise the UEFA Cup in 2009.

Rounding out the draw, Ajax face Young Boys, Slavia Prague go up against high-flying Scottish Premiership side Rangers, and Granada take on Molde.

Draw in full:

Ajax v Young Boys

Dinamo Kiev v Villarreal

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk 

Olympiacos v Arsenal

Dinamo Zagreb v Tottenham

Manchester United v Milan 

Slavia Prague v Rangers

Granada v Molde

Manchester City will be looking to stretch their record winning run to 20 matches when they welcome fellow in-form side West Ham to the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League this weekend.

Pep Guardiola's men are 10 points clear at the summit and two of their players feature among our Opta-fuelled fantasy picks, along with a couple of Everton men on the back of last week's long-awaited derby win at Liverpool.

Manchester United, Tottenham and Leicester City players are also selected ahead of games against Chelsea, Burnley and Arsenal respectively.

 

EDERSON

There are many factors behind the leaders' winning run - not least an incredible defensive record, with goalkeeper Ederson more than playing his part.

The Brazil international has kept 15 clean sheets from 24 Premier League games this term, averaging one every 1.6 matches.

Only two keepers to have played at least 10 times have averaged fewer games per clean sheet across an entire season - Chelsea's Petr Cech (24 in 35 apps in 2004-05) and former Manchester United stopper Edwin van der Sar (21 in 33 apps in 2008-09).

JOAO CANCELO

Simply keeping out the opposition is not enough in the life of a modern day full-back, best epitomised by Cancelo at Man City.

On top of helping City to that formidable defensive record, he has also created the most chances (34) from open play among fellow Premier League defenders this season.

Cancelo may only have set up two goals in the top flight this season, but he has the highest number of expected assists (4.28) among defenders, just ahead of Manchester United's Luke Shaw (4.04).

 

LUCAS DIGNE

Carlo Ancelotti was delighted with the news Digne had signed a new long-term deal with Everton this week and little wonder given the full-back's impact on the side.

No Premier League defender has more assists than the 27-year-old's six this season - level with West Ham's Aaron Cresswell and one more than Andy Robertson and Shaw.

Since Digne's debut for Everton in August 2018, only Liverpool pair Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold (28) have assisted more goals than the Frenchman (17).

GYLFI SIGURDSSON

There was a point when Sigurdsson's time at Everton appeared to be up not so long ago, but the creative midfielder has more than proved his worth to the side of late.

He was been involved in six Premier League goals in 23 appearances this term - four goals and two assists - which is one more than he managed in 35 games last season.

That is a tally he will be confident of building on this gameweek, as the Iceland international has only scored more Premier League goals against Chelsea (six) than he has versus opponents Southampton (five).

 

MARCUS RASHFORD

In the week he celebrates the five-year anniversary since scoring twice on his United debut, Rashford takes on his favourite opponents in Chelsea.

The United academy product has scored five times against the Blues in all competitions and registered a couple of assists.

Only against Leicester City has he found the net as many times, while only against Newcastle United and West Ham (both seven) has he been directly involved in more goals.

HARRY KANE

If Rashford enjoys playing against Chelsea, the same is true of Kane against Tottenham's next opponents Burnley.

The England skipper has been directly involved in 10 goals in nine Premier League appearances against the Clarets, finding the net seven times and laying on three assists.

Burnley's defenders will not look forward to coming up against Kane, with Riyad Mahrez the only player to score against them more often (eight times) in their Premier League history.

 

JAMIE VARDY

Vardy's scoring record against the division's traditional top four is well known by now, particularly when it comes to facing Arsenal.

The Leicester striker has scored 11 goals in 12 previous Premier League appearances against the Gunners, including a late winner in the reverse fixture.

Those 11 strikes place Vardy behind only Wayne Rooney for goals scored against Arsenal in the competition, the United legend netting 12 times against the London club in his career.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has been given the all-clear to chase Erling Haaland, while Liverpool are also eyeing a forward.

Borussia Dortmund star Haaland is wanted by numerous European giants, with Manchester City among those reportedly interested.

But Chelsea are also targeting the 20-year-old forward.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA GIVEN ALL-CLEAR TO CHASE HAALAND

Chelsea boss Tuchel has been given the green light to go after Dortmund star Haaland ahead of next season, according to Bild.

Haaland has scored 27 goals in 25 games for Dortmund this season.

Chelsea spent big ahead of 2020-21, but are seemingly eager to land Haaland to strengthen further.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are apparently eyeing a forward of their own. Diario Gol reports Jurgen Klopp wants Real Madrid forward Rodrygo.

- After starring for Burnley, Nick Pope is linked with a move. LancsLive reports the Premier League club want around £50million for the goalkeeper, who is said to be a target for Tottenham.

- Manchester United continue to be linked with West Ham midfielder Declan Rice. 90min reports United are willing to offer any of Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones to West Ham in their bid to land Rice.

- Staying at Manchester United and the Daily Express reports they may give up on Norwich City right-back Max Aarons due to a £35m asking price.

- With Napoli seventh in Serie A and out of the Europa League after being eliminated by Granada, the pressure is on head coach Gennaro Gattuso. But CalcioMercato reports Gattuso is safe for now despite his side's struggles.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects Manchester United supporters to see plenty more of Shola Shoretire in the future after the 17-year-old's history-making appearance against Real Sociedad on Thursday. 

Shoretire, who made his senior debut in United's Premier League win over Newcastle United at the weekend, was introduced for the final 14 minutes of the 0-0 draw with La Real to become the Red Devil's youngest ever player in European competition at the age of 17 years and 23 days. 

He was unable to make much of an impact as United booked their Europa League last-16 spot with a 4-0 aggregate victory over their LaLiga opponents, but Solskjaer believes the club have a hugely promising player on their hands. 

"Shola will be a good player for us," the United boss said at a media conference. "Sometimes you need to test them against good players and we know Real Sociedad are a good team and have good individuals, who press. Shola and Amad [Diallo] will need introductions to this level. 

"He is a young kid that we believe in; he has a great attitude. You can see the shape of him, psychically he'll be an athlete. Technically, he's very good and he makes good decisions.

"He's grounded, he works hard in training and he's a likeable boy who we hope we can see loads of in the future."

Mikel Oyarzabal missed an early penalty for La Real after Daniel James had fouled Andoni Gorosabel inside the area as United extended their unbeaten run in the Europa League at Old Trafford to 15 matches. 

Solskajer acknowledged the importance of that miss – the first failed penalty attempt at Old Trafford against the home side since Everton's Leighton Baines in October 2014 – to the result, which ensured United have progressed from all five of their last-32 ties in the Europa League. 

"We played against a very good team," he added. "They got an early penalty and thankfully they missed it. We didn't want to go into half-time one or two goals down. Of course, we are pleased to get through unscathed.

"I felt the first 10-15 mins were a bit slow, but we played some good stuff in the first half. In the second half we were not good with the ball, but we defended well. It just proves how good the performance last week was."

United are next in action on Sunday when they travel to Thomas Tuchel's in-form Chelsea in the Premier League.

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