Trailing Liverpool by 30 points, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United have made 'strides forward'

Old Trafford boss claims 'we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball' after 2-0 defeat at Anfield

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed Manchester United’s defeat to Liverpool showed they have made “strides forward” despite the huge gulf that has opened up between the rivals.

United are 30 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s league leaders after losing 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday, but Solskjaer was consoled by the fact they were only separated by one goal until Mohamed Salah’s injury-time clincher.

Solskjaer has been criticised for being too positive in the wake of setbacks but while he denied United have regressed with his upbeat assessment, he risked a backlash from supporters by claiming it represented a step in the right direction.

“We’ve lost to Liverpool, a team you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball,” the United manager said. “For me, that’s strides forward. Of course, we’re disappointed losing the game, we don’t want to be behind them in the league but there were signs there we are on the right track, definitely. I am proud we never gave in.”

While Anthony Martial spurned a chance to equalise, Liverpool had two goals disallowed, hit the post and were denied by several David de Gea saves before Salah struck.

United remain the only team to have taken points off Liverpool this season after drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford in October, but they had held Klopp’s side at Anfield on two of their three visits under Solskjaer’s predecessor, Jose Mourinho, and the Norwegian seemed to be trying to reduce expectations at a club that were accustomed to challenging.

Solskjaer added: “You can look back at history and of course we know we’re not where we want to be and should be and historically have been, just down to us now to work better.”

Solskjaer has the lowest win percentage as permanent United manager of anyone since Frank O’Farrell and his side are on course to finish this season with just 56 points, their smallest tally in the Premier League era.

They will look to get their faltering challenge for a top-four finish back on track when they host Burnley on Wednesday but Solskjaer is short of players, with Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba among the injured, while the ill Victor Lindelof is a doubt.

United are still to sign Portugal international Bruno Fernandes, as they are reluctant to pay more than £38 million while Sporting Lisbon want £68 million for the midfielder.

They are yet to replace Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku when each left Old Trafford last year and their failures in the transfer market, coupled with the reality they have the second largest wage bill in world football, led Solskjaer’s former United team-mate Gary Neville to say executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward should have lost his job.

“Now is not the time to speak about recruitment,” Solskjaer said. “We’re looking to Burnley. We’re always looking to improve the squad and the club but now is not the time, Gary, to start this discussion.”

Solskjaer defended his handling of Rashford, who was injured 10 minutes after coming on in last Wednesday’s FA Cup replay against Wolves.

The Norwegian had admitted four days earlier that his 19-goal top scorer was playing while carrying injuries and Rashford then sustained a double stress fracture of his back against Wolves, but Solskjaer insisted it was a new problem.

“He’s not had that injury before, no,” he added. “He complained a little bit after Burnley [in December], he felt it the first time, and we managed him as well as we could then, he had some days off for treatment, taken off in games and suddenly this was a new injury. He didn’t have any injuries before then.”

Rashford could be out until April and Solskjaer added: “Marcus is good, he’s a positive guy. He wants to get back as quickly and safely as possible and we’ll give him that time. When he feels ready and medically cleared he’ll be back.”