Ole Gunnar Solskjaer underlined the importance of not “pressing the panic button” as Manchester United look to bounce back from their chastening Champions League exit against bitter rivals Manchester City.
Europa League football awaits in the new year after the Red Devils stumbled in Germany, where Tuesday’s agonising 3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig sealed their fate as a stunning start to Group H counted for nothing.
It was a gut punch that the Solskjaer’s side need to pick themselves up from on Saturday evening as rivals Manchester City head across town to Old Trafford in the Premier League.
Pep Guardiola’s men are in the unusual position of starting the game behind a United side that can welcome back Anthony Martial and may be able to call upon Edinson Cavani.
“Of course the group was disappointed on Tuesday night,” manager Solskjaer said on the eve of the derby. “It’s just natural.
“We really wanted to go through in that tournament. Now the reality is we’re not, then we’ve just got to move on.
“It was a tight group decided by fine margins. I think you can see that in most of the games.
“We had a long travel back, so we had a day of recovery on Wednesday.
“Then after that the focus has been good. The focus has just been on this game and the Manchester derby, which is what you want the players to get onto straightaway.
“That’s probably the best game that you can ask for after such a disappointment because it does stick in your system.
“Anthony will definitely be involved so he’s cleared. Edinson has been on the grass but I’ll make a decision later on.”
The pair’s return would be a shot in the arm for Solskjaer as United look to avoid another disappointing day and intensified scrutiny about a manager that retains the support of the Old Trafford hierarchy.
“It’s important not to press the panic button every time because you know in football you can’t win every single game,” Solskjaer said of dealing with setbacks.
“But there are games that you lose that will stick and hurt more than others, that will have more consequences than others.
“Now we’re facing the reality without Champions League (for the) rest of the season so we need to make sure we move on, get back into the Champions League and how we do that is just by improving from last season.”
Sixth-placed United start the weekend just five points behind leaders Tottenham with a game in hand, but it is clear that improvements are needed if they are to kick on.
United have managed just one win in five Premier League home matches so far this season and defensive shakiness continues to hamper them, even if they have managed to bounce back to win every away game.
Solskjaer knows “there’s loads of things we can do better” defensively and stood up for David De Gea after former United midfielder Paul Scholes labelled his attempt at saving Leipzig’s third goal as “criminal”.
“I think David’s a top goalkeeper,” Solskjaer said of the Spain international, who was named on the 55-man shortlist for the 2020 FIFA FIFPRO World 11 team on Thursday. “Of course I do and rightly so he’s on lists of being the best goalkeeper in Europe.
“For me, he’s handled criticism before, he’s handled setbacks before and he’s a boy, or a man, that we really rely on.
“Hopefully he’s not affected by criticism and I don’t think he will be because every goal that a goalkeeper concedes you’d be disappointed with.”
Dean Henderson played instead of the injured De Gea in United’s last Premier League match at West Ham, where Paul Pogba kicked off an impressive 3-1 comeback win last Saturday.
But the 27-year-old came off the bench in Leipzig after a build-up dominated the by Mino Raiola’s comments about his client, leading Solskjaer to say he hopes the agent realises football is about teams rather than individuals.
Asked again about the midfielder, the United boss said: “I speak to my players on a daily basis and Paul’s no different to anyone else.
“For me what was disappointing this week was us going out in the Champions League.
“Players want to go through in that and whatever anyone’s representatives say can’t really affect me. I’ve said what I wanted to say about that.”