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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mauricio Pochettino face off in Manchester United 'audition'

Tottenham manager Pochettino heavily tipped to take up manager's role at Old Trafford this summer

Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino has been heavily linked with the manager's job at Manchester United in the summer. EPA
Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino has been heavily linked with the manager's job at Manchester United in the summer. EPA

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goes up against the man widely tipped to be in the Manchester United hot seat next season, but the Norwegian could further his own credentials for the job with a victory over Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Solskjaer has enjoyed a perfect start since replacing the sacked Jose Mourinho as United interim manager in December, winning all five matches and instilling a sense of fun and adventure in United's attacking play so lacking during Mourinho's final days at Old Trafford.

But while wins over Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth, Newcastle United and Reading represent a fine return to life in the United dugout, Solskjaer knows pitting his wits against Pochettino's high-flying Spurs will offer a more thorough examination of whether he is up to the task of restoring United to their former glories.

Spurs are third in the Premier League heading into Sunday's match at Wembley, with Pochettino having also guided the North London club to the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League, the League Cup semi-finals as well as the FA Cup fourth round.

Solskjaer has revitalised a number of players including Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, but bristles at suggestions he has had an easy ride so far.

"We've had tests," he said. "Newcastle away is a test and the first game was a test as to how everyone reacted. The first home game with the crowd is a test.

"We are not going to get as many chances to attack against these as we had before so when we have the ball we have to be ready to play well with it and we have to use the whole pitch because Wembley is a decent size pitch as well," he added.

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Solskjaer said he had not held any talks with United about taking the position full-time, with the initial mandate to steady the ship and try to guide the club to a top-four finish - United are currently sixth - before returning to his position as manager at Norwegian club Molde.

But the former striker, who has United fans' undying loyalty after his exploits as a player, must see off the threat from Pochettino if he is to prolong his stay at Old Trafford.

Spurs have amassed 48 points after 21 matches, just two behind second-placed Manchester City and nine behind leaders Liverpool. Pochettino started the season with two huge challenges - no fresh signings and no proper break for many of his top stars after they were involved in the World Cup until the final weekend.

Tottenham, who beat United 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier this season, are also still waiting to move into their new stadium after months of delays.

The Argentine, widely courted by Alex Ferguson in 2016 to replace Louis van Gaal at United before the club instead plumped for Mourinho, has given mixed messages over his future, refusing to rule out a move to Old Trafford but also saying he hopes to be at Spurs for 20 years.

But Pochettino believes neither he nor Solskjaer will need any extra motivation than the three points on offer on Sunday.

"Of course for him [Solskjaer] it's a massive motivation or challenge to manage Manchester United, like for me it's a massive challenge to be in front for this football club, Tottenham.

"Always the motivation is to win because we're so competitive. We're people that love to win and hate to lose, and always when you play a friendly game or a competitive game like Sunday always it's about winning."

Updated: January 13, 2019 08:25 AM

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