Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been reluctant to talk-up Manchester United’s Premier League title hopes, but freely admits his side are unrecognisable from the one he inherited from Jose Mourinho just over two years ago.
After a difficult start to the season, culminating in their ignominious exit from the Champions League, United have strung an impressive run of domestic results together, climbing to within three points of the Premier League summit, having played a game less than leaders Liverpool.
While much of the praise for United’s upturn in fortune has been reserved for Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, who combined for the decisive injury time goal against Wolves on Tuesday, Solskjaer believes the improvement has been a consequence of the harmony he has achieved within his squad.
The Norwegian has been forced to rotate regularly throughout the course of a uniquely challenging campaign, but claims there is no room for ‘fakers’ in his squad and heralded the attitudes of experienced old hands, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata, who have been vital in setting the tone, despite not featuring on a regular basis.
Asked if he senses something has changed in the players and that they are stronger mentally as individuals, the United boss said: ‘Yeah, definitely.
‘One, they’re two years older than when I came. Two, some of them are really strong personalities that we’ve brought in, they’ve really been a good influence. And I think we have competition for places, which means you cannot go around and think that you can just fake your way to being part of this team because you only deserve to be in a team that you contributed (to).
‘I think everyone’s just realised that we’re privileged to be part of Man United, such a fantastic club with a fantastic history. When you’re here, enjoy it as much as you can and maybe you’ll experience some fantastic times.
‘You’ve got winners like Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic. They don’t play every single game but they’re so influential in the group and in the build-up to games and during games when they’re not playing.’
Solskjaer’s side face Dean Smith’s rapidly improving Aston Villa side on New Year’s Day, before they focus on the cup competitions. United will then meet Burnley in a re-arranged match three days prior to a trip to Anfield.
Despite the hectic schedule, Solskjaer insists his squad is equipped to cope and will benefit from the changes he has made throughout the course of the campaign.
He added: ‘We have a strong squad, we’ve rotated a lot. We’ve not really called it a settled XI because I don’t think this season is going to be about that anyway. It’s going to be about the squad. It’s going to be about the 25, 26 players.
‘Injuries and suspensions will happen, so I think our squad is well capable of being ready for every game.’