Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to see Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood take up the mantle of Manchester United’s last ruthless front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney.
One of United’s finest modern forward lines led Alex Ferguson’s side to two league titles, an EFL Cup, the Club World Cup and back-to-back Champions League finals, one of which they won, between 2007 and 2009.
Ronaldo and Tevez left for Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively that year and United have struggled since to form a similarly effective trident in attack.
However, there are encouraging signs around Rashford, Martial and Greenwood, who have scored more goals combined in all competitions this season than Liverpool trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Solskjaer thinks it will take time to match the understanding of the Premier League leaders’ attacking players but, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Anfield, he believes in the potential of his forwards.
“The front three that they’ve got have been playing together for ages, not ages, but for seasons now,” he said. “You can see the rotations, movements, the understanding between them, and we hope that our three get that understanding. I’ve probably only started them once together, the Newcastle United game, so we’ve got a way to go to get to the level of the three [at Liverpool], the understanding and consistency they have. But we scored four goals in that game [against Newcastle], so it’s probably something I’ve got to look at more often.
“I believe in ours. We’re going to add to them as well, definitely, but in the years to come I’m sure we’ll see lots of them three. But Liverpool have scored more goals than us outside the front three so I’m not going to say ours are better than theirs or theirs are better than ours.
“We’ve got them on long contacts, developing into a very, very exciting front three. Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney were different, floating, but that’s what we want as Man United supporters – you want to see them express themselves, go to places like Anfield and put fear into their defenders. But we’ve got Dan James as well, who adds to that, so I’m very excited about it.”
Solskjaer agrees that United’s goalscoring threat belies the insinuation made by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, after the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October, that the Red Devils are overly defensive against their fierce rivals.
“I don’t think it’s an accusation. You take it as a compliment that they didn’t create chances against us,” Solskjaer said. “When the opposition manager is frustrated, that’s a good sign for you as a manager. Of course, I think we’ve been closer to winning both those games, so I don’t know what the problem has been.”
Ashley Young is set to join Inter provided he passes a medical on Friday and Solskjaer confirmed there were no plans to sign a replacement full-back.
For now, the United boss is putting faith in young Brandon Williams to rise to the challenge of playing at Anfield.
“Does he look like I need to speak to him? I don’t think so,” Solskjaer replied when asked if Williams might need guidance ahead of a traditionally tempestuous match.
“He’s been absolutely outstanding since he’s come in. Every challenge we’ve put in front of him, he’s tackled head on and he’s only 19, had 10, 11 starts. He reminds me so much of the mentality of Gary Neville and I think he’ll enjoy going to Anfield, put it that way.”
There is continued speculation United are trying to finalise the signing of midfielder Bruno Fernandes, but Solskjaer would only say: “I can’t tell you about any players that play for other teams. We’re focusing on this game at the moment. That’s my only concern.”
With United’s arrival expected to be greeted by Liverpool fans outside the ground, Solskjaer says he has no particular concerns about a hostile atmosphere.
“No safety fears, no,” he said. “They want to try to intimidate us but as long as it’s within the boundaries. I’ve been sat in a coach going into Europe or Anfield and whatever they shout and scream at you, you don’t really notice.
“We need a very, very good performance to go there and win, but we beat Manchester City last month, we had the Paris Saint-Germain game – we need to get to the level of those performances definitely when you go away to a team that’s top of the league.
“The last two performances we’ve had against Liverpool, we’ve played at Old Trafford twice, drawn twice and been closest to winning both those games, so we’ve got games to look back at that will give us lots of belief.
“if we perform to our best, we’ve got a chance to win.”
With Liverpool looking likely to end a title drought stretching back to 1990, Solskjaer thinks such an unexpectedly long gap between league triumphs for their bitter rivals should serve as a warning to United.
“We’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said when asked if he feared United, who last won the title in 2013, could experience a similar dry spell.
“Let that be a lesson for us. They’ve been close a few times and we can’t let ourselves for another 24 years without winning the league. I’m sure we won’t. I believe in this club. We’ve started something that takes a little bit of time, but we’ll get there.”