Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has given under-fire Manchester United counterpart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his backing ahead of their derby meeting, lauding the Norwegian as an “exceptional manager”.
City go to Old Trafford on Saturday for the first Manchester derby of the season with the two teams right next to each other in the table – United are a point better off with 19 in sixth.
It will be United’s first match since losing 3-2 at RB Leipzig in the Champions League, a defeat that eliminated them from the competition despite only needing a point from their final two fixtures.
As such, Solskjaer is under pressure in the United hot seat – but he has often made a habit of winning big games. After all, he has won three of five meetings with Guardiola, giving him a 60 per cent win rate that is better than any other manager to have gone up against the Catalan at least four times.
Therefore, Guardiola knows first hand the influence Solskjaer can have and considers him a fine tactician.
“For me he [Solskjaer] is an exceptional manager,” Guardiola told reporters. “I cannot say that much because I’m not there in the locker room, but how he handles the team and how he’s representing United all around the world…
“I know, Ole knows, we all know, it depends on results, but I have a high opinion about his work at United.”
Prior to the start of the matchday on Friday, United’s defensive record of 17 goals conceded in the Premier League was better than only seven clubs – three of which are those in the relegation zone.
“I feel we’re getting better and looking more like a Manchester United team,” adds the boss.
“We’ve got fast, dynamic attackers and good quality players who can create magic. Everyone says we have no consistency but we’ve won our last four in the league.”#MUFC #MUNMCI pic.twitter.com/BwYZGGa8Go
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 11, 2020
But, while their displays this term have left a lot to be desired defensively, United do possess plenty of threat in attack.
Bruno Fernandes has been involved in more Premier League goals (15 scored, 11 assists) than any other player since his debut in February, while Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani all pose a threat.
French forward Martial may not be in great form this season, but he has netted in three of his previous four league outings against City.
Guardiola is well aware of the dangers, but insists City will be going to Old Trafford with the idea of playing on the front foot.
“Of course, it’s difficult, all the big teams have incredible players up front but we try to play our game, to control as much as possible, punish them,” Guardiola replied when asked if United’s dynamism in attack made them a threat.
“They know we go there to try to win the game, as we always have, but knowing the quality they have, we cannot deny their exceptional squad, it’s an exceptional club and team.
“When I was playing [coaching] in Barcelona, in finals of the Champions League, I knew it then, I knew it when I arrived against another manager.
“They always had top, top teams, I cannot say that since I arrived they have not had a good squad, I never thought like this.”