Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he did not enjoy the closing stages of Manchester United‘s win over Aston Villa and called upon his side to learn to see out matches better when they have a narrow lead. The Norwegian also refused to be drawn into talk of a title challenge despite joining Liverpool level on 33 points.
The Red Devils are only below the Premier League champions on goal difference after 16 matches despite having earlier been criticised for a slow start to the campaign.
United have actually won more matches than any other team after 16 games, at least until teams play their 17th matches across Saturday and Sunday, after Bruno Fernandes’ second-half penalty gave them victory over Villa at Old Trafford.
That almost instantly restored United’s one-goal lead after Bertrand Traore had levelled before the hour mark to cancel out Anthony Martial’s first-half header.
Yet Solskjaer was not fully satisfied with the climax of United’s win, as Eric Bailly had to make a last-ditch block to prevent Keinan Davis equalising late on for the Villans.
Speaking to Sky Sports, the United boss said: “Eric, it’s a fantastic block he makes at the end but to be fair I didn’t enjoy the last 10 minutes that much. I think we should have seen the game out in a better way.
“It seemed like it was a cup final or the last game of the season. We need to learn how to play out games better when we’re in the lead. We’ve shown when we’re chasing a goal we’re capable of doing that.
“Maybe not just Paul [Pogba] but we were too keen on playing the killer pass. We know they’re going to drop off and there’s other spaces in behind them that we should have used.”
On the positives of the performance he added: “We created chances. It’s always going to be a physical game. We know that they’ve improved massively and they gave us some challenges.
“There were a few times in that box that you were a bit worried. We didn’t stop the crosses well enough, when they put crosses in the box they were always dangerous.
“We made some fantastic blocks, some saves. Delighted with the three points obviously.”
And Solskjaer was not happy with the goal United conceded with Aaron Wan-Bissaka being caught out by a quick free-kick.
“You’re never happy when you concede a goal,” he explained. “When you concede a free-kick, just get back on the right side, organise straight away. You can’t open up the passing lanes, that’s for sure.”
“Don’t get me wrong I’m delighted with the three points and very happy with the performance. But there’s always things we need to improve on.
“It’s early on in the season and we shouldn’t get too carried away with three points. It’s not a cup final yet – but those three points extra, they are important.”
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United moved level with Liverpool and seem to harbour real ambitions of a first title triumph since Sir Alex Ferguson retired with the Red Devils as league champions in the summer of 2013.
But Solskjaer is eager not to get too carried away despite United’s improvements, having gone 10 unbeaten in the league since the start of November, winning eight times in that spell.
And he warned his players they must continue to be consistent if they want to dethrone their Merseyside rivals come May.
He continued: “We’ve improved, we’re getting better and the league and the season is going to be so tight anyway.
“There’s going to be different and difficult games and strange results. We’ve just got to keep working and improving as a team.
“Since project restart started, I think we’ve been a very consistent team. Every time you win a game, of course you take one step further. It’s three points in total.
“You’ve just got to accumulate the points. The first game is just as important as the last game. They all count the same.”
United take on Liverpool at Anfield on January 17 in a match which is taking on increasing importance for both sides by the day.
But Solskjaer said: “I’ve not started thinking about that, we’ve got a big game against City here at Old Trafford on Wednesday [in the Carabao Cup semi-finals].
“There’s so many games, you can’t think four days ahead really because there’s just something around the corner.”