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Manchester United rebuild is long-term project, says Ole Gunnar Solskjær

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has ruled out the possibility of Manchester United signing half a dozen new players in the summer, despite acknowledging the club needs to be rebuilt in order to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool.

The United manager’s frankness about the size of the task ahead and the comprehensiveness of the defeat against Barcelona in midweek led to speculation that there might be a clearout at Old Trafford in the close season, with up to half the side being replaced. “We plan to be in the top four, we plan to be in the Champions League next season and we want players who can keep us in the Champions League and move us up the table,” Solskjær said. “But we know there is not going to be a quick fix. We have to take it step by step.

“There will be new players coming in over summer but I don’t think you can expect six. I don’t think any manager you ask would be in favour of that amount of change anyway. We want to rebuild but it is going to have to be gradual, over a few windows.”

While few would disagree with the logic of that policy, the problem for United is time. They have lost five of their last seven games, to become a little better acquainted with reality than they were in the heady days of Solskjær’s caretakership, and sit sixth in the table, where they were when the Norwegian returned to Old Trafford in December. They have given themselves a better chance of breaking into the top four than appeared likely under José Mourinho – that much is true – though they are still going to need 10 points or more from their remaining five games to do it.

That is rather a lot for a side distinctly lucky to take all three points against West Ham in their last league outing. And, if Solskjær has set his sights on Champions League football, he has now arrived at the week of truth. Beginning with a tricky visit to Goodison on Sunday, United meet Manchester City and then Chelsea in the coming week, by the end of which the possibility of a top-four finish will either be in sight or out of the question. Realistically United need to be looking at taking six points from the next three games in order to leave themselves with a chance in the run-in, so anything other than a maximum return against Everton is going to be a disappointment.

Solskjaer celebrates beating Tottenham at Wembley in the early weeks of his reign

Solskjaer celebrates beating Tottenham at Wembley in the early weeks of his reign. Photograph: Tim Ireland/AP

Solskjær is already talking about next season, insisting he cannot wait to get a proper pre-season under his belt to further his stated intention of turning United into the hardest working team in the league. “We need to be the fittest and that doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. United supporters may be a little concerned at that, because what the Barcelona tie seemed to prove was that some new signings are both required and overdue.

While turning United into the Premier League equivalent of James Brown is a laudable enough ambition, it will probably not be enough to close the gap on Liverpool and City if those two clubs continue to buy £75m defenders and three full-backs all at once. It may well be occurring to Solskjær round about now what seemed to occur to Mourinho more than six months ago, that if United miss out on the top four this time, there is absolutely no guarantee that the same thing will not happen again next season.

Solskjær says he has transfer targets of his own for the summer but United have said they would like to appoint a technical director before next season and, for a club whose recruitment policy has come in for heavy criticism over the last few years, that situation surely ought to be clarified first.

Naturally the manager is looking on the bright side. “We might still be sixth but the last 16 or 17 games have shown we have the players to be better than that,” he said. “I think only City have got a better average points-wise since I came in.

“When I was given the job there was an understanding that we had to get Manchester United’s DNA back into the club and the team. That doesn’t mean I want to live in the past. It would be naive to tell players to do all the same things we did when I played. But I want to create a culture that we all believe in.

“When I played the manager trusted us and we took responsibility for our own careers. If anyone stepped out of bounds, they wouldn’t stay here long. That’s the way it has to be at a club like this.”

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