Football: At United, it's 'the best time of your life'

Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku warming up before a United game. Injuries and form have restricted their appearances this season but caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says they need to be self-motivated and emulate Paul Pogba by proving their w
Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku warming up before a United game. Injuries and form have restricted their appearances this season but caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says they need to be self-motivated and emulate Paul Pogba by proving their worth again at the club.PHOTO: REUTERS

Solskjaer says players must use imagination and creativity, vows to give chance to youth

LONDON • Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes it is down to Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku to be self-motivated and follow Paul Pogba's example by proving their worth again at the club - because this should be the "best time of their lives".

Chilean forward Sanchez has scored only one goal in the English Premier League this season with injuries and patchy form restricting him to five starts, while Belgian striker Lukaku has not fired on all cylinders with six goals in 16 appearances.

Ahead of today's home league game against Bournemouth, Solskjaer was asked if he could have an impact on his front men just like he has done with midfielder Paul Pogba, who scored twice and made two assists in the last two games under the Norwegian.

"I don't agree I've done that with Paul and I can do that with Romelu and Alexis. It's up to them when they get a chance," the 45-year-old said during his press conference on Friday.

"That's the name of the game when you're a footballer. You've got to do it yourself. Yes, you want help from your manager and your teammates.

"I gave some guidelines of course on expression, freedom of expression, but that's how I've always been as a manager. You can't tell the players what to do in this position. Just enjoy playing for this club - that's the best time of your life."

Pogba struggled to influence games under former boss Jose Mourinho this season amid a reported rift between the pair but the France World Cup winner has played with more freedom under Solskjaer, who has frequently backed his team to express themselves.

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    Manchester United are looking to secure three consecutive Premier League wins for the first time since a run of five in April.

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    Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in just six league appearances against Bournemouth. He scored six in his last three against the Cherries.

"They're here for a reason - they're good players. It's up to them to use their imagination and creativity," added the former United striker, famed for his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final when they beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

Lukaku, Sanchez and Anthony Martial all trained on Thursday after missing Wednesday's 3-1 league win over Huddersfield Town.

It also means that Solskjaer will now have a selection headache of having six forwards, including Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata, all raring to go.

He also gave 18-year-old forward Angel Gomes an outing as a late substitute against Huddersfield and has repeated his vow to use youngsters in his temporary spell in charge at Old Trafford.

Midfielder Jimmy Garner, who travelled to Cardiff last week, and forward Mason Greenwood - both 17 - are also prominent in the manager's thoughts.

"As Sir Matt (Busby) once said, if they're good enough, they're old enough," said Solskjaer.

"We're built on that tradition, we need young players coming through, it's important in the academy."

Despite the emphasis on youth, there is still a role for a nine-year veteran at the club, Antonio Valencia. Solskjaer said that the Ecuador international is "one of the best attacking right-backs in the world" and confirmed that the 33-year-old will remain captain during his rein.

Valencia had previously considered leaving United after starting only four league games this season under Mourinho.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 30, 2018, with the headline 'At United, it's 'the best time of your life''. Print Edition | Subscribe