Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United remain a bigger club than Manchester City despite their rivals’ recent rise.
All eyes will be on the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening as the blue and red halves of the city collide in the 179th Manchester derby.
United have a superior overall record in this fixture but City head into the match as reigning Premier League champions – their third title since United’s last success under the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Saturday’s hosts have certainly had more to crow about in recent years and the City Football Group is now valued at an eye-watering £3.73billion after Silver Lake last month paid £389million for just over a 10 per cent stake.
United were valued at £2.95bn by Forbes in May and sit sixth in the Premier League standings, 11 points behind third-placed City after just 15 matches.
But asked if United continue to be a bigger club than City, Solskjaer said without hesitation: “Yeah.”
That response was to the point and shorter than an earlier answer that saw the Norwegian poke fun at City.
Solskjaer joined United as a player months after their near neighbours dropped out of the Premier League in 1996, with City only returning to the top table in 2000 after falling as far as the third tier.
It meant the striker had to wait five years to get his first taste of a Manchester derby in April 2001.
“At least we play every year now! It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself,” Solskjaer said.
“But it’s changed in a way. Of course Man City are a better team now than when I was playing.
“I think football has changed quite a lot. I think it allowed a few more proper tackles – with every little angle, everything being scrutinised now, it’s more of a technical, tactical game than physical and mental one.
“But, still, a derby should be played as a derby. We don’t play basketball, so we’re ready for that if that happens.”
Solskjaer believes his side approach this match in a “miles better” physical state compared to April’s 2-0 loss to City and wants to lay down a marker on the back of Wednesday’s win against Tottenham.
“You can’t argue we’re too far behind but it’s a chance for us now to challenge them and bridge that gap a little bit,” he said.
“So we’re going there to win, we’re going there to get a result, even though we know it’s going to be difficult.”
To bridge that gap Solskjaer believes they need to continue on this current path, although predecessors David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho suggested City’s spending power made it an uneven fight.
“Don’t agree,” he said. “What are you going to do? Are you going to give up and not challenge them? That’s what we’ve got to get back to.”
Solskjaer knows United need to rebuild and change the culture to one with “that hunger and selflessness that most of these players are showing”.
The Norwegian is confident there are the resources and know-how to do that, although there remain other issues that are harder to solve.
Paul Pogba’s future is arguably chief among them on the playing side after the midfielder brought back for a world-record fee in 2016 expressed his desire to leave over the summer.
The World Cup winner worked diligently during pre-season but has endured a difficult campaign, with the 26-year-old out since September with an ankle injury as speculation swirls about his future.
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“Of course Paul’s going to play when he gets his fitness,” Solskjaer said. “He’s one of the best players in the world when he’s in form.
“We just need to give him time to be 100 per cent fit. It might be 45 minutes, the first game. It might be half an hour, it might be 90.
“It depends on what game he comes back in and I’m looking to get Paul back to where I had him a year ago.”