Manchester United must start turning progress into tangible success to alleviate pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after falling short in their quest of winning the Carabao Cup at the hands of their nearest rivals Manchester City, according to Gary Neville.
United suffered a fourth consecutive semi-final defeat in the space of 12 months, but Solskjaer refused to believe his players are suffering from a psychological issue when it comes to overcoming the penultimate hurdle.
Neville conceded that over the course of the 90 minutes, City deservedly reached their fourth successive League Cup final while sending out an ominous message to their Premier League rivals.
But the Sky Sports pundit says Solskjaer must end the club’s wait for silverware at the earliest opportunity, with the Europa League success in 2017 the last time United lifted a trophy.
Neville told Sky Sports: “I said before tonight that I felt there was more expectation on this game for me as a Man United fan than there will be a week on Sunday against Liverpool at Anfield. No one this season expected Man United to challenge for the league title, but I think there was a feeling: win a trophy.
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“Ole, at the end of this season, will have been there two-and-a-half years, and to go two-and-a-half years without a trophy, it will start to bring a pressure, because it helps you on your way.
“Jurgen Klopp needed a trophy and eventually got the Champions League. Pep Guardiola won the League Cup, Jose Mourinho at various clubs has won the League Cup just to get them going. He needed something and they were so close to a final with this game and in good form.
“It does pose a problem. I wouldn’t say, sat here as a Man United fan, it causes me a great problem that in any way shape or form I’m looking at the manager’s job at any point, but it will bring pressure down the line. Because if they go to Anfield and lose, people will then say ‘glass half empty’ again. It can turn like that.
“The reason Ole will not be resting on his laurels is because when you’re in a job which presents the problem he had four, five, six weeks ago when he had people questioning whether he’d make it through to the end of the season, when it gets good, like it has in the last couple of days when they’re joint top of the league and have a game in hand now on Liverpool, and they’re in a semi-final, people think everything is fantastic, you don’t get carried away the other way, either.”
Neville: Time for Man Utd to knuckle down
United remain in a strong position, level on points with Liverpool and with a game in hand in the Premier League.
Solskjaer is expected to make wholesale changes when Watford visit in the FA Cup this weekend. United have progressed from 33 of their last 35 third-round ties, while the Hornets have lost their last nine away games at Old Trafford.
The trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley then takes place next Tuesday meaning United can arrive at Anfield on January 17 top of the Premier League to take on the champions, live on Sky Sports.
“It’s a time for Man Utd to knuckle down,” Neville continued. “Not be too hard on themselves because I think they’ve played against a brilliant team.
“City turned up again. Ole will have been hoping Sunday was a one-off, it wasn’t. They were at it again. He’ll know how good a team City are.
“I don’t think he’ll be too resigned to that, he’ll be massively disappointed, he’ll have wanted to take them that extra step, but I didn’t think Man United played badly. I thought they belonged in the game.
“And it could have gone the other way; Anthony Martial at the back post with the header, Harry Maguire with the header, little bits of luck that just go one way or the other. Ruben Dias clears a couple that maybe at the other end didn’t get cleared – Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s header to Fernandinho that ends up in the back of the net.
“They’re just details that decide games and the details went Man City’s way. You can’t argue with that because of the way they played.