Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted his team will not be impacted by protests against the club’s owners and the European Super League ahead of a defining week at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer’s Red Devils were held to a 0-0 draw by rivals Leeds United in Premier League action at Elland Road on Sunday.
The pre-match build-up had been centred on the Super League controversy, which has fuelled an already negative view on Manchester United’s owners – the Glazer family.
The breakaway competition, which sought to establish a closed-shop competition featuring 12 of the continent’s elite clubs – including United – collapsed 48 hours after its launch, in the face of widespread opposition.
United fans have continued to protest against the Glazer family, with a plane trailing a banner – “2bn stolen – Glazers out’ – flying over Elland Road prior to kick-off on Sunday.
As United look ahead to Thursday’s opening leg of their Europa League semi-final against Roma, followed by a showdown against bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer was asked if the protests would distract the players for the remainder of the season.
“I’m really happy with the boys’ focus. They have such a determination to finish the season strong,” Solskjaer told reporters as United sit second in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points clear of sixth-placed Liverpool.
“Of course, the European disappointment of the last game of last season [against Sevilla in the Europa League], that still sticks in their minds and hearts.
“We’re very, very focused to do well against Roma [UEL semi-final] and, of course, we’ve got Liverpool in between so we’re not worried about [the protests] at all.”
United are unbeaten in their last 24 Premier League away games (W15 D9), with only Arsenal between April 2003 and September 2004 (27) having a longer such run in English top-flight history.
“It’s a really good achievement, no matter if there’s fans or no fans,” Solskjaer said. “With the 24 game [streak] without defeat, I think the players have prepared well for these games. We travel, the work by the coaches for every game is really, really good and planned down to a tee.
“I’ve got to say, we hope it continues because we’ve got a lot of big games coming up. We want to take as many points as possible.”
United are on track to finish second this season, with the Red Devils eight points clear of Leicester City – who have a match in hand.
However, United’s wait for Premier League glory is set to continue, having not hoisted the trophy aloft since 2012-13.
“We’ve taken baby steps in the way we play, in the way we train, in the fitness,” added Solskjaer. “The coaches, the work that has been done on the training ground has been planned. We have been able to put down layer by layer by layer, as I said, and now we feel confident going into every game, trusting our way of playing.
“That’s a big thing for us, knowing that whoever we play against, we have our own way of dealing with the opponent. Of course, there’s little tweaks here and there but with an addition or two, we’ll keep on strengthening this squad and keep on training hard.
“I’ve not seen many teams, in the second half, dominate as much as we did against Leeds. They’re so fit, strong, they steam roller teams but we almost did that to them in the second half.”
United have drawn seven league games nil-nil this season – only in 1980-81 (eight) have they been involved in more goalless draws in a single league campaign. The Red Devils have the most goalless draws of any side in the Premier League this term.
“Compared to last season, we’ve won a few more tight games,” said Solskjaer. “We’ve won many games towards the end of the game, I think our fitness has been really good. Second half, we looked strong, like athletes. I really liked what I saw out there. We dominated, played in their half, kept them away from our goal, or even from our half really.
“So really happy with that but today we just didn’t have the moments, we didn’t take them when we had them. A draw is disappointing because we wanted to put pressure on Manchester City, but unfortunately we couldn’t score.”