Football

‘United will challenge for title next season’

Lingard sounds out early warning to rivals, praises Solskjaer's impact

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has helped bring back "the old school Manchester United" and persuaded Jesse Lingard that they can mount an English Premier League title challenge next season.

Jose Mourinho's sacking last December was followed by the surprise appointment of then-Molde boss Solskjaer until the end of the campaign.

FULHAM MAN UNITED

The Norwegian has won nine of his 10 matches in charge in all competitions, with that unbeaten start to life in the dugout seeing United close the gap on the top four and excite the fans, reported AFP.

It even prompted Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola to suggest that local rivals United have inserted themselves into the title picture.

"Solskjaer and (assistant) Mike Phelan have brought back the old school Manchester United," England midfielder Lingard told the Daily Mail ahead of United's clash with Fulham at Craven Cottage tomorrow.

"They know the league and the club inside out, so to pass that on and get us playing how we are has been perfect.

"Solskjaer is doing very well, nobody can fault him.

"He got the players backing him straight away.

"He told us there are big expectations and pressure at this club but we have to deal with it and play like a real United team."

Lingard said United, currently two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea in the race for Champions League places, were setting their sights higher for next season.

"We will challenge for the title next season if we carry on how we are now," said the 26-year-old.

"We're back to basics and winning games by grinding out results or scoring a lot of goals.

"As long as we're winning games, that's all that matters."

Under Solskjaer, Lingard has been playing as a false No. 9, occupying the space vacated by United's strikers when they break wide.

On his current role, Lingard told The Daily Telegraph: "I like to be on the ball and get in positions to hurt teams. I pop up on the left and right and play the false No. 9. I enjoy that role.

"I feel like I have always had that energy since I was a young kid and I can get around the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

"It's like a No. 10 and a No. 9, especially when we play the diamond formation and that has been working.

"I am not the focal point. I am obviously not a target man.

"We have the two strikers higher than I operate.

"I am between them and the midfield. It does cause defenders problems. I am between so they can't pick me up.

"They start focusing on the two strikers rather than me.

"If those strikers make runs, I can come deep and get the ball. The runner always creates space for the man inside."

One of those strikers is Marcus Rashford, who has scored eight and bagged three assists in his last 13 matches for United.

Lingard told Goal.com of his England and United teammate: "He's so young and he's achieving so much - the world is his oyster...

"He loves his football and plays with a smile on his face, which is important, too.

"His form has been great at the moment...

"He works hard and helps the team with goals and assists, that's very important for us.

"We press from the top and he starts that off for us, too.

"I like to look after him when he gets into trouble on the pitch, I'm always there to back him.

"It started at the Man City game, he got into a little bit of beef... I'll back him no matter what."

Football