Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested rival managers might be attempting to influence referees by bringing up their penalty record in the wake of Jurgen Klopp’s comments about their contrasting spot-kick history.
A recent upturn in fortunes means the Red Devils are level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool, whose undercooked performance on Monday saw them fall to a shock 1-0 loss at Southampton.
Klopp accepted they were far from their best at St Mary’s but argued that his side should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Sadio Mane, before taking aim at their rivals along the M62.
“We cannot change,” the Reds boss, who welcomes Man Utd to Anfield on January 17, said. “I hear now that Man United had more penalties in two years than I had in five and a half years. I’ve no idea if that’s my fault, or how that can happen.”
When Klopp’s remarks were put to Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester City, he said with a laugh: “And that’s a fact, probably.
“That’s probably going to be my answer – that’s a fact that we’ve got more than them.
“But maybe they should… well, we’ve had… I don’t know how many penalties they’ve had. I don’t count how many penalties they have.
“So, if they want to spend time on worrying about when we get fouled in the box then I don’t spend time on that.”
Whether Solskjaer was likening Klopp’s comments to the former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez’s ‘facts’ rant at Sir Alex Ferguson is up for interpretation, but his frustration at other managers was not.
United have been awarded six league penalties this season compared to the five won by Klopp’s men, although they have been given 42 in all competitions since Solskjaer took over in December 2018 compared to Liverpool’s 19.
But the Norwegian believes his side should have had even more and pointed to the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, suggesting Frank Lampard had an impact when saying in the build-up that United were getting a run of favourable VAR decisions.
“I can’t talk on behalf of other managers, why they say things like this,” Solskjaer said following Klopp and Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho’s recent comments about the number of spot-kicks awarded to United.
“Obviously I felt it worked last year in the semi in the FA Cup because Frank spoke about it and we had a nailed on penalty that we should have had that we didn’t get, so maybe it’s a way of influencing referees. I don’t know.
“But I don’t worry about that. You know when they foul our players I think it is a penalty, it’s just when it’s inside the box.”
The FA Cup defeat to Chelsea was one of three semi-final losses Man Utd fell to in 2019-20, coming between the Carabao Cup exit to City and Europa League disappointment against Sevilla.
Solskjaer is now looking to make it fourth time lucky by reaching his first final as Man Utd boss when Pep Guardiola leads his side to an empty Old Trafford on Wednesday.
“On last year’s three semi-finals, Anthony (Martial) came on and he should have had a penalty,” he said, referring back to the FA Cup loss to Chelsea. “They’re fine margins when you get to a semi.
“Even against Sevilla I thought we played one of our best games and we were very, very close to getting through against a very difficult side.
“We’ve learned hopefully but it’s not about learning. Sometimes it’s fine margins and sometimes it’s quality and we are a better team now than six months back or 12 months back.
“Hopefully we have got the quality when it matters, when we’ve got a chance or when we’ve got a one against one and defenders make a block or that we defend well.
“Semis, you earn the right to win a trophy by going through, you play against more and more difficult opponents every game and naturally a semi is harder than a quarter-final.
“Quarter-final a few weeks back I thought was fantastic for us. We showed the quality, strength in depth and hopefully we can make it one step further this time.”