Manchester United know victory at Turf Moor will send them three points clear at the top of the table
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned his Manchester United players not to think they have “cracked it” if they go top of the Premier League table as the manager was given a significant fitness boost ahead of their game against Burnley.
United will replace leaders Liverpool at the summit if they avoid defeat at Turf Moor on Tuesday night, five days before they travel to Anfield for one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season.
Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw have been cleared fit to play after both defenders missed Saturday’s FA Cup win over Watford through injury and Solskjaer is still hopeful Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba could be available after injuries of their own.
Striker Edinson Cavani is also back after completing his three-match ban over his controversial “Gracias negrito” Instagram post.
United have not been top of the Premier League after 17 matches since December 2012 when Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge but Solskjaer has told his players not to pay too much attention to the table.
“We have to be aggressive. We have to go into every game humble and working hard, don’t even think for one second you’ve cracked it if you’re near the top,” the United manager said.
“That’s not the type of players we have. We have players who should play on the front foot and be aggressive, work hard and be hard to play against no matter what.
“The group mentality is improving all the time. Now it’s a different challenge, it’s Burnley away. We’re in this position, it doesn’t matter where we end up in the league as long as we focus on this game and this game only.
“We are better off this season than last season compared to the same time last year. We’ve won more games, scored more goals, played better football. That’s a positive but as I said no-one remembers January league tables. For us it’s just about developing this team and improving.
Edinson Cavani is available for United after serving his three-match ban
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
“The league table doesn’t matter now but you pick up points and when you get to March and April, that’s where the league will be decided. This season was going to be difficult for us, we started later than everyone, we’ve got this game [against Burnley] to catch up. We didn’t have any pre-season.
“I remember I wasn’t happy with what I said when I said we just needed to hang in there. That’s not what I meant. I meant picking up points is not just about hanging in there but get the performances right and the points on the board and don’t let teams run away with it. We have done well.
“Sometimes with the results we got in the beginning it made it more difficult for the players maybe and easier for people to criticise us, look at the table, maybe worry a little bit.
“Of course a game in hand is only good if you win it. We need to win it to put those points on the board. We had a difficult start against [Crystal] Palace and Tottenham, it made it harder mentally for the players to look at the table. Even if you don’t look at the table, people are always talking about your positioning.”
Solskjaer is pleased to have avoided potential defensive headaches with Lindelof and Shaw back.
“All of them trained today. Paul and Eric didn’t do all of it but Luke and Victor did, so I’ve got a decent amount of players to pick from. Lets see with Paul and Eric how they are tomorrow,” he said.
“Edinson has trained well. He had a couple of days off. He is ready to go. I am glad to have him back. He will be important until the end of the season.”
Bruno Fernandes’ arrival from Sporting Lisbon last January had a transformative effect but Solskjaer thinks the only likely transfer activity at Old Trafford this month will be potential outs, with Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero surplus to requirements and other players, including Brandon Williams, Jesse Lingard and Daniel James, attracting loan interest.
“I think the signings we made in the summer strengthened the squad really well, good signings and good characters and good players,” he said. “January is always difficult. If something comes up that is a long-term target anyway that is another scenario. But not many teams would like to lose players in January. It’s unlikely something will happen on the ‘in’ side. There might be two or three going out because they deserve to play more football for their own good and their own careers.”
Solskjaer hopes United can improve on last season’s third-place finish and believes the title race is a more open field than when he was a player at the club.
“It has been since Sir Alex left second, third, fourth, fifth, twice sixth, once seventh,” he said. “It is important for us now to establish ourselves up among the top four. We’ve only been top four three times since Sir Alex left.
“If we can do that again after third, if we can improve on third, that’s progress. When I played it was a different ball game of course, we were really disappointed if we didn’t win the league. We finished third once, most of the time we challenged against one team, but now the league is different. There are so many other teams who can challenge and look at themselves as candidates to challenge the top teams.
“There weren’t that many teams able to challenge for the top two or three positions. In a good year, you win, in a bad, you are second or third. Now there are so many other teams with big, strong squads that can challenge. We all talk about the top six but there are other teams who can get up there as well now. That’s due to good work at different clubs, good signings. It makes it more exciting that last few seasons when two teams have run away.”