Solskjaer: Christmas fixture schedule is unfair on players and needs changing

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the festive fixture schedule needs changing due to the unfair physical and mental toll on players.

Just 48 hours and 25 minutes after wrapping up a 4-1 comeback win against Newcastle, the Red Devils will kick-off their final Premier League match of 2019 at Burnley.

Those matches are part of a run of seven United games in 21 days over a period that may be traditional but seems outdated given the focus on physical and mental well-being.

Anthony Martial's brace helped Man United overcome Newcastle on Boxing Day
Anthony Martial’s brace helped Man United overcome Newcastle on Boxing Day (Martin Rickett/PA)

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp recently said it is “a crime” for teams to have to play on both December 26 and 28, with Solskjaer similarly irked by the continuation of such scheduling – even if he believes his players are able to muddle through.

“I don’t think it is fair on the boys at all,” the United manager said.

“I don’t think it is fair to be expected to perform at the best of your level, both mentally and physically, 48 hours after you have played.

“But I think we are in the best position to perform on Saturday. One – the game was over after 45 minutes. Two – we are young.

“We have a great chance against Burnley to perform at the best level because our boys, when you are 23, which is the average age of the outfield starting players today, that will make it easier for us to recover than Burnley, for example. I think.

“They played until the end against Everton. We were done after 45 minutes and used the second half as recovery.

“But it is not fair, especially when a game at Watford has just gone and there will be a game New Years’ Day.

“Two games in three days is possible once in a while but not when it is as tight as this.

“I am impressed by everyone in the dressing room because they are so professional, looking after themselves.

“That is why they could stay at home last night. There was no point them being in a hotel. I trust them. They know what is the right thing to do.”

Asked if he ever sees English football changing, Solskjaer said: “You are a traditionalist country. You like your traditions. I can’t see it being changed, no. But it should be.”

The Norwegian tasted the hectic scheduling first-hand during his playing days at United, although he did not have it quite as tough.

Ole Solskjaer spent a lot time on the bench during his Man United playing days
Ole Solskjaer spent a lot time on the bench during his United playing days (Phil Noble/PA)

“It was easy for me,” Solskjaer said. “I was on the bench all the time!

“I never played 90 minutes twice in three days. Maybe I did one year. I scored against Villa and Ipswich. You have to look after yourself.

“You have to eat the right things, drink the right things, sleep well.

“We have one of the best facilities in the country. We have got the best staff in the country.

“I know everything is going to be done for the players and by the players to be prepared for Saturday.”

Not only will the players be prepared this weekend but aware of the expectations.

“The boys know what I expect on Saturday,” Solskjaer said when last Sunday’s chastening 2-0 loss at Watford was broached.

That was one of several times that United have stumbled against one of the Premier League’s lesser lights – an undoubted problem for this side in transition.

Manchester United were beaten by rock-bottom Watford just before Christmas
Manchester United were beaten by rock-bottom Watford just before Christmas (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I think it has been told in quite certain terms what kind of team we are,” Solskjaer said. “They know what we expect. They know when we are at our best.

“Today I think we showed it and we saw it. Even though we went 1-0 down heads did not drop. We do have to make it hard to play against us.

“We can’t play tippy-tappy football. We can’t, at this moment in time, play like (Manchester) City. It is only City that can do that.

“We have to show more energy, drive, urgency and selflessness in every single game. That is the way we have to play at the moment.”