City have soared 10 points clear of their local rivals thanks to an 18-game winning streak in all competitions after a 1-0 victory at Arsenal yesterday (Feb 21).
United’s own inconsistent form has helped open up the gap, but the Red Devils beat Newcastle 3-1 in yesterday’s late game to win for just the second time in six league games.
“We’ve got to be there just in case,” said Solskjaer. “Every time we get three points we’ve done our job and that’s what we’ve got to do and see what other teams do.”
Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were again on target on a night United needed their star men to paper over the cracks of another unconvincing performance.
Solskjaer made five changes to the side that impressively thrashed Real Sociedad 4-0 in the Europa League on Thursday and was lucky not to be punished for a disjointed start from the hosts.
“We had to find a way to win it in the second-half. The first-half wasn’t up to the standard that we wanted,” added Solskjaer.
“Maybe because of Newcastle, maybe because of what we did in the week. We asked them to go again after a high-intensity game and it took us to half time to get our legs and energy.”
A run of two wins in 14 games has left Newcastle just three points clear of the drop zone, but Steve Bruce remains confident his side will survive.
“Fulham have had a good week and won a couple of games, which at the bottom end of the table is big, but there are a few of us: Brighton, Burnley and maybe Crystal Palace looking over their shoulders,” said Bruce.
“My message to the supporters is that I’m convinced we’ll be ok.”
Poor goalkeeping cost Bruce’s men the opening goal on the half hour mark as Rashford wriggled free inside the area, but his shot should have been kept out by Karl Darlow.
United’s sloppy defending from set-pieces was punished six minutes later, though, when Saint-Maximin swept the ball into the top corner after Harry Maguire only half-cleared a cross into the box.
After a blistering start to his United career last season, Dan James has struggled for game time, but the Welshman has now scored in his last three appearances as he blasted past Darlow from close range just before the hour mark.
More good footwork from Rashford then drew Joe Willock into an ill-advised challenge inside the box and the on-loan Arsenal midfielder conceded a penalty.
Darlow had saved the only spot-kick Fernandes has missed as a United player when the sides met earlier in the season.
But he was wrong-footed this time as the Portuguese playmaker coolly converted to give United the two-goal cushion they craved.
City roll on
Manchester City had Raheem Sterling’s early header to thank for their win at the Emirates Stadium in North London.
An 18th consecutive win in all competitions edged City ever closer to a third league title in four years even if Pep Guardiola’s men did not hit the heights they have in recent weeks.
Sterling could have scored three times inside the first five minutes, but his soaring leap to nod home Riyad Mahrez’s cross secured all three points as City kept a 10th clean sheet in their last 13 league games.
Arsenal remain in 10th with their best chance of a return to the Champions League next season dependent on success in the Europa League.
Tottenham are just two points better off than their north London rivals in ninth, nine points off the top four after a fifth defeat in their last six league games.
Mourinho’s men were undone by a slow start to each half at the London Stadium and lost 2-1.
Michail Antonio opened the scoring after just five minutes before the rejuvenated Jesse Lingard smashed home the third goal of his loan spell from Manchester United two minutes into the second half.
“The results are the consequences of multiple situations in football. Mine and my coaching staff methods are second to nobody in the world,” said a defiant Mourinho.
“Our potential is higher than where we are so there is frustration.”
Tottenham rallied after Lucas Moura’s powerful header pulled a goal back as the impressive Gareth Bale and Son Heung-min hit the woodwork late on.
But West Ham held on to bolster their unexpected challenge for Champions League football by moving two points ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea.
“We are enjoying it but are also not going to be daft,” said Hammers boss David Moyes, who enjoyed his first win over Mourinho in 16 attempts. “We will keep calm and hopefully keep pushing the teams at the top.”
Villa suffer without Grealish
Leicester are up to second after a bright first-half performance saw off Aston Villa 2-1.
The Foxes are determined not to make the same mistakes of last season when they let a huge lead over Manchester United and Chelsea slip away and missed out on Champions League football on the final day of the campaign.
“Maybe a little bit of excitement gathered last season,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers. “This season everything is much calmer, knowing that you’ve got to keep going and you can’t get excited too early.”
Rodgers’s men now enjoy a six-point cushion over Chelsea in the battle for the top four.
James Maddison and Harvey Barnes struck inside the first 23 minutes as Leicester punished a Villa side badly missing the presence of injured captain Jack Grealish.
Villa were handed a lifeline three minutes into the second half when Bertrand Traore swept home Matt Targett’s cross, but lacked the creative spark for which they rely on Grealish to find an equaliser.