MANCHESTER, England – Manchester United caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku to prove they belong in his team.
The pair are in contention to feature against Bournemouth on Sunday after missing the first two games of Solskjaer’s reign.
The Norwegian has already had an impact on Paul Pogba’s form since taking over from Jose Mourinho and the 45-year-old says it is up to Sanchez and Lukaku to follow the Frenchman’s example and use the fresh start to get back to their best.
“I cannot do anything for their performances on the pitch,” Solskjaer told a news conference on Friday. “I’m here to give them the path and it’s up to them to do it on the pitch. It’s up to them when they get a chance that’s the name of the game as a footballer. You’ve got to do it yourself.”
Lukaku, who is back after compassionate leave, has managed just six goals this season while Sanchez, who has recovered from a hamstring injury, has scored only once this term.
Pogba also struggled for form during a disappointing start to the season but the midfielder has been one of the stars of Solskjaer’s first two games, scoring twice in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield on Boxing Day.
“I think Paul is a top, top player,” Solskjaer said. “He’s one of the best, the top, top players in the world. He’s been top class and we’re looking to build a team around him of course but there are so many quality players.”
United could win a third consecutive Premier League game for the first time this season when they face Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Sunday. It is also a chance to close the gap on the top four after starting the second half of the season eight points off the Champions League places despite comfortable wins over Cardiff and Huddersfield.
“Whenever you win games everyone’s happy so let’s keep that run going,” Solskjaer said. “These two games have been fantastic. My first game and first game at Old Trafford, that’s new, and we need to keep that momentum going against Bournemouth. When you lose a game you won’t see many smiles about.”
Solskjaer has also confirmed Antonio Valencia is nearing a comeback from injury and will remain club captain when he returns to the team. The United caretaker boss was less optimistic about Chris Smalling’s fitness and revealed the defender may have to wait until the trip to Tottenham on Jan. 13 due to a foot injury.
“Antonio is the captain when fit,” he said. “He’s going through a couple of tough sessions now to get him ready for the busy period. There are not many better right backs going forward.
“Smalling has got a sore foot so I don’t think we’ll see him until the New Year, maybe not before Spurs. Marcos [Rojo] and Scott [McTominay] look like they can take part soon.”