In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reflects on steadying the ship and his proud record against Pep Guardiola; Watch Man Utd vs Man City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am on Saturday; kick-off 12.30pm
Saturday 6 November 2021 17:50, UK
"Since you're putting this to me, then I'm guessing it's me!" Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responds with a beaming smile.
The Manchester United boss has been under pressure, but when asked at the start of an exclusive interview with Sky Sports who is the only manager Pep Guardiola has lost against more than he has won in his career, it is a sure-fire way to diffuse any tension.
Solskjaer will no doubt be aware of his impressive record against Guardiola, masterminding four wins over City. The counter-attacking style is one that United's neighbours can struggle against, with Crystal Palace's impressive raid on the Etihad last weekend further evidence of this.
The Norwegian has guided United on an unbeaten sequence in their last four league games against City - winning three - their longest such run against them since a run of six between 2008 and 2011, but he is not about to rest on his laurels.
United lost 5-0 at home to Liverpool nearly two weeks ago before steadying the ship somewhat with a 3-0 win at Tottenham and a 2-2 draw away to Atalanta in the Champions League.
Solskjaer has been under intense scrutiny since the Liverpool defeat, and some United fans might fear another Old Trafford horror show with champions City set to make the short trip across town this Saturday lunchtime, live on Sky Sports.
"I know we've done really well against them in a few games, but I've not got any clue of how other managers have fared against him," he adds.
United have also kept three consecutive clean sheets against City in the Premier League, so what does he put his good results down to?
"It's all down to the team, the players and the coaching staff," Solskjaer continues. "We've turned up on those days and you've got to turn up on the day against such a good team.
"We've suffered, we've worked hard together, we've played well and we've defended really well. We've done all you need to do in order to win games against good teams."
|Manager||Games vs Guardiola||Wins||Win %|
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer||8||4||50%|
Guardiola attempted to play down the significance of the champions' much-anticipated trip to Old Trafford.
Much of the attention in the build-up has surrounded United and the position of Solskjaer, and while Guardiola says he has paid no attention to it, the United boss admits he has not reverted to any special tactics in order to outsmart his opposite number.
"We've tried different systems but the style is always the same," says Solskjaer. "We know the way we want to play football... sometimes we put three at the back, four, or even five... it doesn't matter. It's about the style of football and the belief that the players have when they walk onto the pitch.
"There might be a game plan but then it's over to the players, and they've done very well. Man Utd are known for and we are good at attacking quickly."
Despite City having enjoyed greater overall success than United in recent years, it is the red side of Manchester that has had the edge in derbies over the last two seasons.
So does Solskjaer have to continue evolving his methods in order to keep winning this fixture?
"Of course, and I'm sure Pep has some new ideas regarding how he can beat us and how he will approach this game," Solskjaer admits. "We've set a game plan that we feel is going to work this time, and you've got to ride your luck at times in these games as well.
"We've had some games where we've had maybe 40 per cent possession tops, but you can still come away with some good chances and good goals. The one where we had more possession was the 0-0 game a couple of years ago. It's what you do with the ball and if you do the simple things well, you've got a chance."
United have lost seven home matches in all competitions in 2021, their most since 2001 when they also lost seven, so sustaining a dream philosophy or way of playing has proven elusive for Solskjaer.
|Over 60% possession||4||0||0||4||1|
|60% possession or under||3||2||1||0||5|
Curiously, his side are yet to score a Premier League goal from a set-piece situation this season, but the United boss is aware of how such small margins can make significant gains in his quest to close the gap on City.
"We've always been a team that is good at attacking quickly," Solskjaer says when the subject of the 'United Way' is posed to him.
"When I played under Sir Alex [Ferguson] as manager, we knew that in some games, you might not be at your best. You might have to grind out the result and earn the right to win. I think everyone would like to have 75 per cent possession in every game, but it's not always possible against every team in the world.
"I do like to be solid, to be hard to play against and to attack quickly, but you also want to be on the front foot in these sorts of games because you're at home."
Anthony Martial is the only forward in Solskjaer's ranks to have started all four of his wins against City in the Premier League and yet the Frenchman has largely become a peripheral figure this season.
Martial was an unused substitute in the 2-2 draw against Atalanta and has not featured since the start of October due to injury, but given how well Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo dovetailed against Tottenham, will Solskjaer be tempted to call upon those who have succeeded against City in the past?
"That's football," Solskjaer says when asked about whether he might look to change a winning system.
"Sometimes players are injured, sometimes they're out of form, sometimes they're ill and you've got to try to make the most of whoever's fit and available.
"But it's great to have the ability to call upon all these players. There's loads of attacking options there."
Jadon Sancho has been left out of the England squad for November's World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino, but his Manchester United team-mate Marcus Rashford returns following injury.
Sancho, who moved to United from Borussia Dortmund this summer, has been limited to mostly substitute appearances so far this season and is yet to score or assist for his new club.
It has been a struggle, but Solskjaer is not overly concerned about the winger's form.
"He has to just keep on doing what he does in training and when he comes on he has to do well. He has to trust himself and trust that we believe in him.
"Of course, we've been through difficult periods and against Tottenham and Atalanta we played with a different system, but Jadon will play so much and there's no doubt that he'll come good."
"We were very, very poor against Liverpool and we had to do something to get a result against Tottenham. It might then be for a while that we stick to it or it might be that we change."
United's use of a 3-5-2 has left a plethora of attacking talent on the bench, with Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Martial joined by the likes of Jesse Lingard and Donny van Beek in being reduced to the substitute appearances.
When asked if such an approach was sustainable, Solskjaer kept his cards close to his chest.
"Of course, we started out the season with a back four, we've also played a back three or a back five depending on how you look at it. But it depends on the games at times and the situation you're in. We were very poor against Liverpool and we had to do something in order to get a result against Tottenham.
"We found a good way for that one and so it might be that we continue for a while or it might be that we change."
|Date||Opponent||Result||Shots on target faced|
|October 2021||Tottenham||W 3-0||0|
|March 2020||Man City||W 2-0||4|
|February 2020||Chelsea||W 2-0||1|
Solskjaer insists Manchester United have moved on from their Liverpool mauling ahead of their Old Trafford return against Manchester City - despite it forever being a "black spot" in the club's history.
"We've moved on from that one," Solskjaer said of the Liverpool result he described as his darkest day at United.
"Of course it's going to be in the history books but we've had a good week. We've had good results away from home, difficult games, and the mindset is positive.
"We've got to go into this game believing we can do good things. It's a local derby and everyone knows what's at stake."
Of the focus on his own position, Solskjaer said: "When I stepped in the doors here in December 2018 there's been speculation ever since.
"So that's no problem. You don't expect an easy ride when you become manager of Man Utd. That's how it is and we're ready for this game."
Solskjaer can head into the Manchester derby comforted by his positive record against Guardiola.
The Norwegian has won four of his eight meetings with City boss Guardiola in all competitions, which is the best win rate of any manager to face the Spaniard at least five times.
Solskjaer is also the only manager to have beaten Guardiola more times than he has lost to him.
Again, that is the best record of anyone who has faced the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss in at least five matches.
Solskjaer said: "I'm not one to talk about what I've done. I've got great respect and admiration for what Pep has done.
"It's a special one and we've had a few good results against them. Let's hope that continues, but we don't take it for granted. We have to earn it.
"We've had some good games, tight games, and we need another performance. Sometimes you need luck, sometimes you need the players to stick at it. We know it's going to be a game where we have to work hard and suffer a lot.
"The last time we had a Manchester derby with fans (United won 2-0 at Old Trafford in March 2020) the atmosphere was electric.
"We'll remember that one more than with any dark moments that we've had. When Scott (McTominay) scored that goal in extra time that was a special moment.
"We know it's a one-off game. You have to start on the front foot and start ready. A lot of it depends who gets on the front foot."
Solskjaer's defensive resources have been depleted this week with the loss of Raphael Varane.
The former Real Madrid centre-back was forced off against Atalanta with a hamstring injury that Solskjaer expects to sideline him for "four to five weeks".
Victor Lindelof missed out on Tuesday with a knock sustained in training and Eric Bailly deputised for the Sweden international in Italy.
"With all the technology now you expect him to be out for four or five weeks with the scans that we've seen of him," Solskjaer said of Varane.
"It's a blow for us because Raphael has come in and been really influential. But we have big squads to cope with some absentees at times.
"Victor is still a doubt but hopefully he can come back in. I would expect him to be ready but I can't promise."
United are definitely without midfielder Paul Pogba, who serves the second game of a three-match ban after being sent off against Liverpool.
Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports football journalists Richard Morgan and Ben Grounds to discuss the huge Saturday lunchtime showdown between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford.
PART 1 | How are the two rivals shaping up for the big clash? We weigh up how Man Utd's injury concerns in defence could affect their approach, while we ask whether Jack Grealish is living up to his big price tag and the reasons behind some inconsistent form from the defending champions. Is this match now a must-win for them with Chelsea pulling clear at the top of the Premier League?
PART 2 | Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a winning record against Pep Guardiola so what's the secret to his success in this rivalry? And how will the clash go on Saturday? We make our big match predictions!
Manchester United host Manchester City in the first Manchester derby of the season on Saturday - and you can follow all of the action live on Sky Sports.
Manchester United vs Manchester City will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am; kick-off at 12.30pm. Kelly Cates will be joined by Roy Keane, Graeme Souness and Micah Richards in the studio and Gary Neville on the gantry with Martin Tyler for co-commentary.
Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in our dedicated live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Free match highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel before 2.45pm on Saturday.