Marcus Rashford has claimed a top-four finish looked a lost cause for Manchester United under Jose Mourinho as he hailed the turnaround under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United’s progress under Solskjaer suffered a setback at the weekend when they lost 2-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup quarter-final in a performance the Norwegian described as the worst of his four-month reign.
It followed a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Premier League - their first in the top flight under Solskjaer - but United still remain firmly in the hunt for Champions League qualification, trailing the North London club by just two points and Tottenham, in third, by three points.
United were 11 points adrift of fourth spot and 13 points off third position when Mourinho was sacked in December and Rashford says it was “impossible” to believe then that they could finish in the top four.
“We’re in a place now, in the league, that was pretty much impossible two months ago,” said Rashford, whose side face Watford at Old Trafford after the international break. “So we’re just looking to carry it on now, to try and better ourselves, and look forward to the next season.
“I think just his [Solskjaer’s] presence around the building has changed everyone really. Even the lady at the front desk, Kath, she’s been working there for years, and you notice a difference in everyone.
“Growing up at United, that’s what the feeling has always been like - like this - and to have it back, the way it is now, is amazing. That’s without even touching on what we’ve done on the pitch - how we’ve improved ourselves as a team, because that’s where we can still improve a lot.
“But the feeling I have now is all the players understand that. When everyone’s on the same page, there’s no telling how far we can get. What he’s done since he’s come in is remarkable.”
Nevertheless, Solskjaer faces a big challenge to help rediscover some momentum after back-to-back defeats and ensure the season does not tail off. United face Wolves again at Molineux, three days after the Watford match, before taking on Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
United looked disjointed and uncertain against Wolves on Saturday in a display more in keeping with Mourinho’s final months in charge but Rashford, speaking before that game, believes Solskjaer has changed the mindset by introducing an attacking, front foot approach.
“He’s come in and the first thing he was going on to us all about was about playing forward, and playing forward when you see the pass, which usually, if you look up straight away, the pass is on straight away,” Rashford told GQ magazine. “I think getting that, planting that seed in people’s minds, now you’ll start to see that people are looking for the forwards now. When the other team have the ball, we have one eye on our defensive duties, but then another eye is on, if we win it back, 'Where’s the space? Where can we go?'
“I’d say that’s been the biggest change, and it’s risky, but it’s worth the risk if it pays off. And if we can do both like the team’s willing to do – the forwards are willing to track back – we can look forward to a lot of the games in the future.”
Meanwhile, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial - both of whom played for 90 minutes against Wolves - have withdrawn from the England and France squads respectively due to injury.
Martial has pulled out of France’s forthcoming games against Moldova and Iceland after suffering a recurrence of a knee problem and Shaw will miss England’s Euro 2020 qualifying double header against Czech Republic and Montenegro.