Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Manchester United’s win at Fulham and a return to the top four as perfect preparation for the Champions League clash with Paris St Germain on Tuesday.
United sealed a comfortable 3-0 victory at Craven Cottage as a Paul Pogba brace and a fine Anthony Martial strike extended Solskjaer’s unbeaten start as interim manager.
The Norwegian has overseen 10 wins from his 11 games at the helm and he made six changes in west London with one eye on his first taste of managing the Red Devils in Europe.
Pogba stole the show but Martial impressed on his recall with Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling helping to keep a clean sheet after coming back into the side, with Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata also given a chance to impress.
Asked if this was ideal preparation for facing PSG, Solskjaer said: “Yes, I would have to say so because it’s a tough place to come.
“We gave them the first 10 minutes, maybe played into their hands. They had some counter-attacks, they put the ball into the box a few times but then after we scored the first goal we played a fantastic last 80 minutes.
“It’s a squad game and today of course it’s a chance for everyone to say ‘I want to play on Tuesday night because it’s a big game’.
“You’ve got to trust the players, because the league is vital for us but it’s a chance for them to say ‘I should play on Tuesday’.
“I’ve been in that situation a few times myself and it’s about who grabs it. There were some good performances today, I have to say.”
The victory lifts United into the Premier League top four for the first time since the opening weekend of the season – having been 11 points adrift when Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in December.
“(Being in the top four) is a big thing,” conceded Solskjaer.
“But then again there are so many games to go, so we’ve got a look forward, the next league game is Liverpool, of course.
“So let’s make sure we stay in the top four and we’ll do that if we get some help, but we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves, we can’t really think about or control what other teams do.”
Defeat for Fulham leaves them 19th in the table, with supporters jeering manager Claudio Ranieri’s substitutions and with louder boos heard at full-time.
“I told my players it’s important to show to our fans that we are alive, and that we will try to do our best until the end.”— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) February 9, 2019
Full reaction from the Manager: https://t.co/NqiuNYKAwf pic.twitter.com/8hikHGYTed
Ranieri felt his players lacked the composure at 1-0 down to get themselves back into the game against such talented opposition.
“We started very well,” he said.
“We created two great chances to score a goal but suddenly Pogba scored their first goal and I thought ‘okay, stay calm and we can continue to play’.
“But my players are very…. not anxious, but they want to score immediately to draw the match and against big teams that is difficult and we conceded to them the counter-attack.
“Manchester have champions in their squad and kept possession of the ball – for us it was then more difficult.
“We wanted to score goals, we hit the post, that is the difference. When you play against champions you have to stay calm and not lose your composure – that is the real problem.”