LONDON • With a third of the Premier League season still to go, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the top-four race will go down to the wire as Manchester United prepare to face Thomas Tuchel’s revitalised Chelsea today.
The Red Devils were knocked off the top spot by Manchester City on Jan 26. A run of just two wins in six top-flight matches means they are now 13 points behind their rivals, hot favourites to earn their third league title in four years.
Second-placed United head to the Etihad next Sunday in what will likely be the season-deciding match for Solskjaer’s men. But, before then, they have back-to-back fixtures at London clubs – they travel to Crystal Palace three days after visiting the Blues.
With City enjoying a commanding lead, the Norwegian knows that they cannot afford to lose even more ground.
“We’ve got Chelsea just behind us, we’ve got City away in front of us,” said Solskjaer. “Of course, we can’t let them run further away if we have ambitions of catching them and we can’t give Chelsea too much hope to catch us either.”
The Blues have yet to lose under new manager Thomas Tuchel and can halve the six-point gap to United today. Solskjaer is impressed by the impact the German has made since succeeding Frank Lampard last month.
“You can see the results, you can see the stats, the possession they’ve had, they keep teams away from their own goal, keep the possession,” he said.
“He’s (Tuchel) done really well. It’s never easy coming into a season halfway through, so he must be pleased as well. Hopefully, we can stop that run. That’s my job now.”
City, United, Leicester and West Ham are in the top four but a clutch of teams, including Chelsea and champions Liverpool, harbour ambitions of dislodging them and Solskjaer is predicting a tense battle for the Champions League places.
“I don’t think the positions will be decided early,” he said. “With this season as well, it’s unpredictable. We’ve seen teams going through bad phases, then a run and then who knows what’s going to happen with injuries, how players react to the circumstances.”
Like Solskjaer, Tuchel is well aware of the significance of United’s visit to west London.
Chelsea are unbeaten in eight games under him and enjoyed the most impressive result of his reign in midweek when they won 1-0 at Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first leg.
But Tuchel knows that the hosts’ hopes of securing a top-four finish will be dented if United take three points today.
“We know that it is a big challenge because of their (19-game) unbeaten away record so far,” the former Paris Saint-Germain coach said. “The implications are huge. If we get a win out of this game, it is huge and if they get a win, it is huge for them to increase the difference between us.”
CHELSEA V MAN UNITED
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