LONDON • There is nothing left to play for in the Premier League for Manchester United this season but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned his players to stop pandering to the crowd with next week’s Europa League final in mind.
The Norwegian felt that his team’s eagerness to entertain fans, allowed into Old Trafford for the first time since March last year, had cost them in Tuesday’s 1-1 Premier League draw with relegated Fulham and the result was a wake-up call ahead of the clash with Spain’s Villarreal.
United led through Edinson Cavani’s spectacular long-range lob in front of 10,000 home supporters, who returned for the first time in 14 months due to the easing of British Covid-19 lockdown rules.
However, Joe Bryan’s late equaliser spoiled the party and Solskjaer said United had made it difficult for themselves by letting their professionalism slip.
“We need to play better against Villarreal than what we have the last three games,” he added.
“It might be a wake-up call because we tried to do the fancy stuff, the flicks, extraordinary things, the things that pleased the fans. That’s not what we’re about.”
Solskjaer pointed to the performance of Cavani, who earlier this month signed a one-year contract extension, as an example of how his players should have kept things simple.
“Back tackles, runs, scores – there’s no fluff,” Solskjaer said of the 34-year-old veteran striker.
“We can’t have fluff in a game of football.”
While Solskjaer was happy to see fans back in the Theatre of Dreams, he conceded his players may have taken their eye off the ball in trying to put on a show.
“The buzz, the energy, the atmosphere was magic, really,” he added.
16 The number of goals Edinson Cavani has scored in 38 appearances for Manchester United this season.
“It was fantastic to have the fans back. Maybe that was part of the reason we played the way we did because we played too much to entertain at times. Too many difficult choices instead of a simple one.”
Asked about Paul Pogba and substitute Amad Diallo – who are both Muslim and from France and Ivory Coast respectively – displaying the Palestine flag when the game finished, Solskjaer said they had a “right to have a different view”.
“We have players from different backgrounds, different cultures, different countries and we need to respect their views if they differ from someone else’s. If my players think about other things than football, that’s a positive thing,” he added.
Israel and Islamist group Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip, have been engaged in hostilities for over a week, and the death toll has been climbing, sparking global concern.
United, who have failed to win their last three home games, travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday to wrap up their league campaign before facing Unai Emery’s Villarreal next Wednesday in the final of European football’s second-tier club competition.