Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes that the fear of failure has turned Manchester United ’s defence into a mean machine.
United have been linked throughout the season with bank-busting moves for high-profile defenders like Raphael Varane, Jules Kounde and Kalidou Koulibaly – but centre-back pair Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof have developed into one of the most ruthless partnerships in the game.
United have not lost for six months in the Premier League when Maguire and Lindelof have been in tandem and have conceded just four goals in their last nine Prem games.
Their understanding will be tested to the full when Solskjaer asks them to tame Liverpool ’s Fab Four of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota at Old Trafford.
But the United boss feels his team are now in a secure place. He said: “Victor and Harry have been solid, very reliable and have created a very good relationship.
“Eric Bailly has just signed a new deal, Axel Tuanzebe has played very well when he’s had the chance and, hopefully, we’ll have a new player in Phil Jones next season when he’s fit.
“But we are always looking for improvement, always looking at every department. And if there are players that come in and challenge them or take their place, then that’s great.
“I have felt that myself at Manchester United and that is the way it has to be here.
“We sign players to challenge the ones we have here already – and if you don’t step up, players will take your place.
“That fear of losing your position has to be there. I always felt that when the gaffer signed new strikers I had to step up, get better and make sure he didn’t want to sell me.”
With Aaron Wan-Bissaka developing into a player Solskjaer describes as “one of the best one-v-one defenders in the world” and Luke Shaw enjoying a remarkable return to form that should take him to the Euros with England this summer, the United boss has real defensive solidity to build on.
His team have closed the gap on Liverpool ahead of schedule, but Solskjaer said: “I don’t want to comment on Liverpool much. I don’t want to talk about my feelings for them as I don’t think that’s fair.
“Liverpool have been great the last few years but for one reason or another this season they have got less points.
“This season has been such a tough one for everyone – and I am just very pleased with the progress that we have made.”