Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slammed a fixture schedule that has given his team 24 hours less recovery time for Sunday’s derby showdown with Manchester City than their rivals.
United progressed to the FA Cup quarter-finals by easing to a 3-0 victory at Derby County on Thursday, a day on from City also seeing off Championship opposition in the form of Sheffield Wednesday to reach the last eight.
Solskjaer suggested this arrangement handed an unfair advantage to Pep Guardiola’s side, who have won their past three Premier League trips across town.
“It’s that help we get from the FA, that extra 24 hours that they’ve had,” he said.
“I cannot believe – there’s a derby on Sunday and we’ve got to play on Thursday night. What’s the point in that?
“That doesn’t level the playing field. It was the same when we beat them last time, we played Wednesday and they played Tuesday, so we’ve got to be good at recovering now.
“I don’t think we can [complain about it] it’s one of those where you get told when you’re going to play. We’ve not got any help before this one.”
The victory Solskjaer referred to was a 2-1 triumph at the Etihad Stadium in December that came on the back of a midweek assignment at home to Tottenham.
Indeed, the recent history of this fixture tends to favour the away side.
United were 1-0 winners at City in January – an ultimately futile victory as it failed to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit in the semi-final of the EFL Cup, which their neighbours went on to win for a third successive season last weekend.
Guardiola’s men ran riot to rack up a 3-0 half-time advantage in the initial game, with some wasteful finishing meaning strikes from Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and an Andreas Pereira own goal amounted to the Red Devils getting off relatively lightly.
Solskjaer feels his players were too eager to recover from the initial setback of Silva’s long-range opener and urged them to display emotional control on this occasion.
“Our heads went for a spell there, thinking that we had to recover the game in 10 minutes,” he said.
“You don’t have to do that when it’s a cup competition and two games. We’ve learned from that one definitely.
“When you’re at home and you have to open up against a team like Man City, they will exploit that if you’re not 100 per cent.
“Sometimes, being at home with your fans you want to show them what you can do and beat your opponent. Sometimes you open too many spaces and that’s what we did for 10, 15 or 20 minutes after they scored a worldy.
“It wasn’t a problem before Bernardo scored in the top corner, that wasn’t an issue until our heads went for a little while.
“We have to control our emotions more. We have learnt and that’s an experience that we’ll bring into this game, definitely.”
United head into the weekend fifth in the Premier League, three points shy of fourth-place Chelsea, although their current position will be enough to secure Champions League football if City’s two-season ban from UEFA competitions is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport before next term.