Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits Manchester United are “down to the bare bones” and are lacking in energy as they went winless for the third straight Premier League game, drawing 0-0 with Wolves.
Bruno Fernandes’ debut couldn’t spark United into life as they failed to break down Wolves at Old Trafford, coming just before the winter break as Solskjaer’s side look forward to 16 days off.
It’s a welcome break for United, having played 21 games in 69 days, and the United boss insists confidence isn’t an issue, but energy is.
“We played so many games over the last two months – the players are down to the bare bones really, their energy levels are down and they need a break,” he told Sky Sports.
He also said in his post-match press conference: “I don’t think it’s confidence. We’ve just come off a 6-0 win in the cup, we’ve beaten Man City three days ago, it was energy. Wolves had 10 days to rest to prepare for this. We had two games, on a muddy pitch at Prenton Park, and the emotional energy at City.
“We dominated the game again, against them, 65 per cent possession, and we don’t create too many big chances unfortunately, lacking a little bit of that spark, which is natural, we’re on the end of a relentless run, 18 games in two months.
“Sometimes you get games that look a bit flat, but we still had 65 per cent possession, so it’s not confidence, it’s energy as well. So the break will be used to get the energy up, and also the weather is going to be nicer so we’ll do more finishing, movement and patterns. We’re looking forward to the last few months of the season.”
United missed the chance to move to within four points of fourth-placed Chelsea following their 2-2 draw with Leicester, but Solskjaer says he expected this sort of game against Wolves, and admitted they struggled against a side playing so deep.
“It’s not about taking advantage here and now, it’s when 38 games have gone, you need to be there. Of course there are going to be teams that lose points, we need to capitalise maybe sometimes in games like this, but Wolves want to be there as well.
“We’ve played them three games in three weeks, and haven’t conceded a goal, either, so we are also a hard team to break down. There are too ways there.
“I didn’t expect much more than what we did today, I have to be honest, the boys have given absolutely everything, when a team plays so deep like today it became hard.”
“Groundsmen must have moved goalposts!”
United struggled to create many clear-cut opportunities, but Solskjaer joked that the groundsmen must have moved the goalposts after Juan Mata, Mason Greenwood and Diogo Dalot all missed the post by inches.
“Someone must have moved the goal, though, the ground staff, I’ve told them, half a yard to the right where Juan, Mason and Diogo had their shots, that must have happened last night!”
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Neville: United need to regroup
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville speaking on Saturday Night Football…
“I think Manchester United need to regroup during their winter break. It’s been a tough time for them in this last month or so and they need to get away, have a break and get ready for the Chelsea game.
“It’s a pivotal game in their season. If Manchester United win that game they’re back in business, if they lose they’re in trouble in terms of qualifying for the Champions League and they’ll maybe start to focus on the Europa League as their only realistic chance of getting into it.
“Not just the players, the coaching staff have taken a real battering over the last couple of months. They’re so inconsistent and with that comes a lot of pressure. I sense the first week off will be about rest and recuperation and the second will be really focusing on that Chelsea game.”
Analysis by Sky Sports’ Nick Wright
“Bruno, Bruno, Bruno,” came the chant from the Manchester United fans in the stands. The game had not even begun but the mere mention of their new signing’s name from the stadium announcer was enough to get the crowd going. All eyes were on Bruno Fernandes at Old Trafford.
The 25-year-old had only taken part in one training session with his new team-mates following his £68m arrival from Sporting Lisbon on Thursday. But it is a testament to how much this Manchester United side needs him that he went straight into the starting line-up against Wolves.
In the end, his debut became another game in which Manchester United have failed to find a way to beat a well-organised opponent. There can be no instant fixes to their long-standing issues. But Fernandes did at least provide glimpses of how he might help them in the future.