Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks Manchester United deserve to be in the Champions League but does not consider failing to finish in the top four to be “fatal” to their development.
The Red Devils are third in the Premier League, above Chelsea on goal difference and a point ahead of Leicester City ahead of Sunday’s final round of matches.
A draw away to Leicester would be enough to secure a top-four finish, while their place would almost certainly be safe no matter their result if Wolves were to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
United also have a potential back-up route into the Champions League should they win the Europa League next month.
Solskjaer believes finishing third would be just reward for his team as he thinks they have long been the best side in the league behind champions Liverpool and Manchester City in second.
However, even if they fail to get the job done on Sunday, the United manager is confident they will continue to make progress.
“It would be a good boost and a nice boost for the team to finish third,” he told Sky Sports. “I know since October, after that international break, we’ve had the third-most points in the league.
“For a long, long spell now we’ve been the third-best team, we just, in the start of the season, we were too inconsistent. Now we have got more consistency, more fitness levels, we’re more robust.
“And of course, we want to be in amongst the elite in Europe and play in the Champions League, but the old Winston Churchill quote is, ‘success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal – then what you need is the courage to continue’.
“That’s what we’re going to do with this team, we continue. We carry on developing the team, improving and knowing that this is not the end of the journey for the team, this is just one other stepping-stone in our development.”
United have only won one of their past four games in all competitions but have generally been one of the most impressive sides since the Premier League resumed after the coronavirus-enforced break.
Leicester, by contrast, have struggled for form in the second half of the season and have only won two of their past eight league matches.
“We have to go into the game with a positive mindset, going there to attack, going there to win the ball, going there on the front foot, defend on the front foot,” Solskjaer said.
“We know Leicester are a good side and they’re going to pin us back at times and we’re going to have to defend our box as well, so stop crosses, if the crosses come into the box, get first to it. All the basics in football.
“And you know you have to work really, really hard. You have to go there with a frame of mind that, ‘when I’m off the pitch today, I’ve given everything I have for the shirt’ and hopefully that will be enough for a result.
“You can never control the result in a game of football, you can only control your effort in the performance.
“I just want to see them do what they’ve done over the last five or six weeks, go out there with a smile, express themselves, play with no fear, play with courage, go and attack teams, go and drive at them, create chances and defend well, like we have done.”
Solskjaer also insists his players will be fully refreshed for the match at the King Power Stadium, despite having looked jaded during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham.
“We have proven over the last five or six weeks that we are one of the fittest teams and one of the strongest teams,” he added. “But all the other teams you’d feel a little bit of wear and tear, aches and bruises. I wouldn’t worry about my players at all in that respect. They’ll be sharp, fresh and ready.”