Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Manchester United are approaching a “massive” week that could shape their Premier League season.
Having been knocked off top spot by Manchester City on January 26, a run of just two wins in six top-flight matches means they are now an eye-watering 10 points behind their rivals.
Second-placed United head to the Etihad Stadium for a crunch derby clash on March 7 but first comes tough back-to-back trips to the London to take on rejuvenated Chelsea on Sunday and Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
“We just have to focus and tick one game off at a time,” Solskjaer said. “As you say, the three games are massive.
“We’ve got Chelsea just behind us, we’ve got City away in front of us.
“Of course we can’t let them run further away if we have ambitions of catching them and we can’t give Chelsea too much hope to catch us either.
“Every game is important and now until the international break will be a big period – six, seven games.
“We always say look at April and May to see how we are then, so let’s get to the international break and then we can focus on the run-in.”
Solskjaer believes United have got over their recent wobble ahead of Sunday’s “great challenge” at Chelsea, where Thomas Tuchel has made an impressive impact since succeeding Frank Lampard last month.
The Blues have yet to lose under the German and can halve the six-point gap to United on Sunday as the race for Champions League qualification heats up.
“You can see the results, you can see the stats, the possession they’ve had, they keep teams away from their own goal, keep the possession,” Solskjaer said.
“He’s done really well, it’s never easy coming into a season halfway through so he must be pleased as well. Hopefully we can stop that run. That’s my job now.”
Asked if he thinks the top-four race will go down to the wire, Solskjaer said: “Yeah, I think so. I think it’s going to be a long run-in.
“I don’t think the positions will be decided early. With this season as well, it’s unpredictable.
“We’ve seen teams going through bad phases then a run and then who knows what’s going to happen with injuries, with how players react to the circumstances.
“Because it’s the shortest, long season ever with loads of games.
“So, for me, every game is massive and of course Chelsea we know how difficult that’s going to be and how important it’s going to be for us.”
United head into the match on the back of Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad in the Europa League – a result that completed a 4-0 aggregate triumph in the round of 32.
Harry Maguire was rested following their comprehensive first-leg win, with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof lining up together as they compete for a starting role alongside the skipper.
“Both of them played well, so Eric and Victor and Harry are three very good centre-backs I rely on and Axel (Tuanzebe) as well,” Solskjaer said.
“I have four to choose from, although Axel played in midfield (against Sociedad).
“(With selecting Maguire’s partner) sometimes it’s the opposition, sometimes it’s the form, sometimes it’s little things.
“I think the two of them will keep on playing and they might be playing together as well.”
Donny Van De Beek is back in contention for United this weekend but Edinson Cavani and Scott McTominay are once again set to be sidelined along with Paul Pogba.
Daniel James will be assessed after limping out of Thursday’s match, which Juan Mata missed with an unspecified issue that is set to keep him out of the first half of March.
Solskjaer said: “Juan unfortunately will be out for a couple of weeks so he missed tonight, yeah.”