Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jurgen Klopp Both Downplay League Title Race Talk

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On Wednesday we learned that when Manchester United visit Liverpool in a little over two weeks, there will not be any fans allowed. That January 17 clash at Anfield is looming quite large right now as United, who have played one game fewer than their arch-rivals, can equal Liverpool’s current point total should they beat Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.

Yes, United are second, only three points behind the table-toppers, but there is still a hesitancy to talk about the Red Devils as true title contenders.

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That’s understandable given that:

-their crashing out of Champions League this season undermines the confidence one might have in their winning silverware

-they have reached three semifinals under manager Ole Gunnar Solskajer and lost all of them

-their intracity neighbors, Manchester City, have a better track record of competing and winning titles and conventional wisdom holds that the Citizens have a superior squad

-United haven’t truly mounted a serious league title challenge since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. The one time they finished runner-up, they were still 22 points off the pace.

-They finished 33 points behind Liverpool last season.

Solskjaer himself is playing down the idea of looking at the big picture, like most coaches are keen to do.

“We just focus on the next game,” Solskjaer said after his team accomplished a “Fergie Time” style win over Wolves on Tuesday.

“I am very, very boring but we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. We have got to a decent position at the moment but we’re not even halfway. That’s a long, long way to go.”

He’s not wrong- he is saying very boring things, which is unfortunately, the right way to go about it.

“We have won quite a few points towards the end of games and that is both a mental and physical aspect,” the Norwegian continued.

“We’ve got a group now that is more robust both mentally and physically. We have gone through some tough training periods, played loads of games and they are getting fitter and fitter.

“The fitter you are the more you can do. But mentally as well it gives you a boost knowing you can win games towards the end.”

Liverpool are the reigning champions, and they won it all by a whopping 18 points last season. However, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is not thinking about the standings right now either.

“The last thing I’m thinking about is our position in the table at the moment,” the German said after Liverpool battled Newcastle to a goalless draw today.

“It’s nice but it doesn’t mean anything. We drew tonight and we are still top of the table so that just shows how difficult the season is for everybody. When life gives you lemons make lemonade. We have to keep going, next game, Southampton, Aston Villa, Man United and that’s good we know about our responsibility.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted but it’s not the worst thing in the world there are worse things happening.”

The Reds are off until Jan. 4, when they visit their de facto farm club, Southampton FC.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of  “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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