Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United’s recent loss of form could be partly due to off-field issues but is hoping supporters can give his side a lift against Fulham on Tuesday.
The Red Devils lost back-to-back Premier League home games against Leicester City and Liverpool last week in a little over 48 hours amid a backdrop of fan protests against the club’s ownership.
Supporters forced the initial clash with Liverpool two weeks ago to be postponed late on after demonstrating inside and outside Old Trafford.
United had to alter their pre-match plans for both the rearranged clash with Liverpool and the loss to Leicester to ensure their players were in the stadium well ahead of kick-off.
Solskjaer admits the disruption affected his squad and, ahead of United welcoming fans to Old Trafford for the first time in 14 months, the Norwegian has called for unity.
“I didn’t want to use it as an excuse because we lost two games but surely it’s a reason behind the performances,” Solskjaer said at a news conference on Monday.
“I’m not saying it didn’t affect them, but I was impressed with how professional they were and how they went about it.
“I think the mood in any club and the relationship between the team and the fans is vital to what happens on the pitch.
“The players are all human beings, we’re all human beings, and we will react to getting our supporters back in a positive way.
“They have always given us extra energy and hopefully the players will give the fans a reason to cheer and that’s what we have to focus on. It’s a big game for us in that respect.”
Tuesday’s visit of Fulham will see up to 10,000 in attendance for United’s final home game of the season as coronavirus restrictions continue to be eased in the United Kingdom.
Victory for United would guarantee a second-place finish in the Premier League for just the second time since Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Jose Mourinho was in charge for that previous occasion and described it as one of his best achievements in management, but Solskjaer will not celebrate finishing so far behind Manchester City.
“The competition is a lot harder now than when I was a player,” he said. “Of course, you have three, four, maybe five teams that challenge for the top two positions.
“The top two positions have been taken by two teams in the past few years and for us to move into them and divide them is a good performance, but it’s not an achievement.
“You can’t say it’s an achievement. We’ve taken steps as a team, we’re not where we want to be. We know we have some deficiencies as a group.
“There are parts of the game we need to improve on but I’ve felt we’ve made strides in most places.
“I’ve been very pleased with the players this season, I’ve got to say. I’ve been impressed by them, but we want to take the next step as well.”
United have won 18 of their past 22 Premier League meetings with Fulham and are unbeaten in their last 12 against them in the competition, winning 10 of those.
Solskjaer’s side follow up Tuesday’s fixture with a trip to Wolves on the final day, before turning their focus to the Europa League final with Villarreal on May 26.
That game in Gdansk offers Solskjaer a chance to win his first piece of silverware as United boss, but he is not thinking about that game with two Premier League matches still to go.
“You know whatever team I pick against Fulham, it has to be a team that gives everything,” he said.
“If you go into a game tentative, if you have something else in your mind, you don’t fly into the tackles as you should, you don’t sprint as normal, you don’t maybe focus as much.
“There’s more of a danger of getting hurt in that kind of position. We want to build momentum, we want to build confidence because of course we’ve lost the last two at Old Trafford.
“We don’t want to go into an important game with bad momentum or a bad feeling, so we use these two games to get results but also to get confidence.”
United have lost their final home league game of the season in just one of the previous 13 campaigns, doing so against Cardiff City in 2018-19.
The Red Devils have Daniel James and Anthony Martial back, but Harry Maguire and fellow centre-back Phil Jones are both out.