United’s steady climb up the table into second place has been impressive given they were thumped 6-1 at Old Trafford the last time they played Spurs in October.
They’ve lost only twice in 27 league matches since and have one foot in the Europa League semi-final. It would do for most clubs but Solskjaer knows United are judged by higher standards and the large gap behind Manchester City is no reason to put out the bunting.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists Manchester United are not happy with second place this season
Jose Mourinho once claimed a runners-up spot with United in 2018 was a great achievement
‘Our ambition is a lot more than second place. You can’t say that is an achievement,’ insists Solskjaer, even though Mourinho bigged it up as a great feat in 2018.
‘I’ve always said you can never be happy with that, and we’re not. The mood is good but the players aren’t happy, they are hungry to improve and win something.
‘Our ambition is to catch the team in front of us. City have had three or four fantastic seasons and we know the challenge.
‘But we have to take it on. Blood, sweat and tears have to be put down.’
The transformation at United and Spurs since they last met is remarkable.
Whilst United have gained momentum from being 16th after that game, Mourinho’s Tottenham have slipped 11 points behind their rivals and are currently outside the top four having been tipped earlier on as title contenders.
United visit Spurs on Sunday for the first time since their 6-1 loss to Mourinho’s men in October
The 6-1 does seem to have represented a watershed moment for United in personnel and attitude, even though they also suffered during the game because of a a shortened pre-season.
Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly, who struggled to stop the influence of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, have rarely made United’s strongest line-up since.
In contrast, Scott McTominay and Fred have become the midfield go-to men having both been introduced as half-time substitutes to stem the Spurs tide.
The red card for Anthony Martial after 28 minutes, reacting to an elbow from Erik Lamela by putting his hand into the winger’s face, has also become significant in United coping with perceived ‘dirty tricks’.
‘Anthony was conned into that red card,’ reflects Solskjaer. ‘We learnt a lot from it, especially not to get wound up and react, to keep our composure. So even though the players will all be fired up for Sunday, I still want to see a lot of that composure.’
Solskjaer claims his United side will fired up but not wound up for the Tottenham rematch
Solskjaer recalls having a few words with his stars after the Spurs debacle before they all went away on international duty whilst he had time to mull over what would happen next
‘But I wasn’t angry,’ he said. ‘We had a lack of preparation time because we’d played in the Europa League finals late. Then some players went home, some abroad to see their families, then having to go into quarantine.
‘Jose was very dignified after the game. He was almost apologetic because he knew how hard it was for me to take.
‘I have the utmost respect for him and you shouldn’t always believe all that is said and written about him here. There were plenty of positives from his time and he has been a manager who I look up to.’
Solskjaer was a consistent winner during his playing days at United. He’s aware the club’s overall standings since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 have been patchy at best. Either side of Mourinho’s second place, they finished sixth.
Solskjaer (left) insists he has the upmost respect for Tottenham manager Mourinho (right)
‘We have not been stable in the top two or three,’ acknowledges the United boss. ‘If we can get a good second place, not just scrape into it at the end of the season, but have a good finish, we will go into the next one with hopes we can go even further and do even better.’
Martial is ruled out for the season with a knee injury while the manager has to decide whether to rotate with next week’s European quarter-final second leg against Granada in mind with United leading the tie 2-0.
Kane, linked with a move to United, scored twice at Old Trafford and will be able to fully resume his partnership again with Son today. The South Korean hasn’t started since he suffered a muscular injury against Arsenal on March 14.