Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn't forgotten the doubters

Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper reflects on his exclusive chat with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Watch Man Utd vs West Ham live on Sky Sports Premier League on Wednesday; Kick-off 6pm

You'd think the motivation for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players would be quite simple, win the last two games to guarantee Champions League football next season.

But speaking to the Manchester United boss, he obviously hasn't forgotten those who predicted he had no chance of getting the club back into the top four.

"We know that we've got two games, we've got a great chance to achieve something that no one believed we could do.

"We've come so far as a team, we're very close now to the end of the season so there's no point leaving any energy in the dressing room, now it's going to be left on the pitch."

United's form prior to Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea would have suggested they'd comfortably secure enough points to return to Europe's elite competition, but that 3-1 loss, their first in exactly six months, has got the alarm bells ringing again.

Solskjaer: 'Our destiny is in our own hands'

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Man Utd
Image: United were beaten 3-1 by Chelsea in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final

Solskjaer's spent enough time at Old Trafford as a player and as a manager to predict the scrutiny coming his way, with the form of goalkeeper David de Gea almost the subject of national debate.

I asked him if the Spaniard had apologised to his team-mates for a performance that left them with what proved an impossible mountain to climb but, like his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, he was intent on keeping whatever went on in the dressing room at Wembley private.

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"What we've gone through after the game, I think that sticks between our walls," Solskjaer responds.

"What it is now is, we come together, the team comes together. A bundle of sticks is unbreakable, if you leave one on its own that can break so we'll stick together. That's Manchester United, we've always been a team, we've always been united and everyone knows me well enough to know that.

"Our focus is just the next two games now and not discussing any team selection or anything. We stick together, we've done fantastic to get this far and go into the last two games with our fate in our own hands, our destiny's in our own hands or legs if you like."

Solskjaer has to ultimately decide whether taking De Gea out of the firing line will help or hinder the team's chances of successfully making it over the finishing line.

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21 fouls and no bookings? United boss reflects on Chelsea defeat

One matter he's less ambiguous about in the fall-out from the semi-final is the lack of action taken against Chelsea by referee Mike Dean and the team at Stockley Park. His teenage son Noah has provided him with the crucial statistics.

"What did my Noah say the other day? It was 21 fouls and no bookings the other way.

"I don't want to go into it again, but while you're at it, Anthony's (Martial) on the ball and he kicks through his foot, that's a red card and a sending off. But that's how small the margins are in football.

"But it seemed that little bit of influencing the officials worked. I don't want to start criticising because it sounds like it's sour grapes but it isn't."

The one silver lining of that FA Cup exit is the 10-day break it'll afford Manchester United between their final Premier League game and the resumption of a Europa League tie in which they lead LASK of Austria by five goals.

Solskjaer doesn't want to hear about that right now and reacts to my point about a rest with a shrug and a smile saying simply "I'd take a final at Wembley any day of the week."

Solskjaer shrugs off missing out on Bellingham

PRESTON, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Jude Bellingham of Birmingham City looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Birmingham City at Deepdale on July 18, 2020 in Preston, England.
Image: Manchester United missed out on signing Jude Bellingham

The last couple of days have seen Solskjaer miss out on teenager Jude Bellingham, a blow that followed Angel Gomes' departure from Old Trafford, two young players he wanted to have in his first team squad next season.

"Now is not the time to talk about transfers but I think everyone can see what we do with young players, we're getting our own players through, we're giving them a chance and we're trying to recruit players who'd add to our current squad, either as an X-Factor straight into the team or an X-Factor kid, so that recruitment process is going all the time.

"We'll always look to our Academy and give the kids a chance because the Academy is fantastic, we educate players but also human beings. If we lose out on one, we'll produce a better one."

On Wednesday evening Solskjaer comes face to face with the man who got his hands on the Manchester United job before he did, David Moyes.

The Norwegian was mentioned as a potential successor to Sir Alex back in 2013 while he was still at Molde, but only he was serious.

"I don't think anyone was thinking about me in 2013 for this job, apart from myself."

When I ask him if he had always thought about himself for the role, he smiles and says "yes".

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