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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hopeful Alexis Sanchez can contribute to Manchester United’s top four challenge now he has returned from a knee injury.

Sanchez made his comeback from a six-week lay-off as an 80th minute substitute for Jesse Lingard in United’s Champions League humbling by Barcelona. Sanchez received a warm ovation back at the club he spent three years with and came close to marking his cameo with a header that was superbly clawed away by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Solskjaer had urged United’s forwards to regain form in the build-up to the quarter-final second leg at Barca yet Marcus Rashford squandered two excellent openings at 0-0 during United’s early onslaught. Rashford, who has been troubled by an ankle injury recently, has scored just three goals in his last 12 for United, Anthony Martial is without a goal in over two months and Jesse Lingard has not scored in nearly three months.

Romelu Lukaku was dropped for the return leg at Camp Nou and is enduring another drought, having last struck in the round-of-16 triumph at Paris Saint-Germain. Solskjaer has substituted Juan Mata in his last two starts and, amid a lack of form up front, indicated Sanchez could help sharpen the attack.

“Alexis has been injured now since March 1,” Solskjaer said. so he’s been out for six weeks and it was important he got 15 minutes on the pitch for his mentality so he knows his knee is okay, and he was close to getting a goal and had a couple of other instances that he showed his talent.

“Hopefully he can give us a good push towards the end of the season to get in the top four.”

The gulf in class between Barcelona and United was another dosage of reality for Solskjaer as he attempts to rally his players for the run-in. United are sixth in the Premier League and have been set a target of four wins from their five remaining matches against Everton (away), Manchester City (home), Chelsea (H), Huddersfield (A) and Cardiff (H).

“If you want the result you need the performance and you have to have margins,” Solskjaer stressed. “We started well but then [Lionel Messi] hits that in the bottom corner. I have to say he is top quality and he was the difference. When they went 2-0 up that was game over.

“Messi and Ronaldo have been the best players the last decade. Now tonight he shows his quality. That is the Barcelona team here, that’s the level we have to aspire to. We can get there but we have loads of work to do.

“If we want to get back to United’s true traditions and level, we know we have to challenge the Barcelona’s. I have to say they were a couple of levels above today and at Old Trafford.

“We want to play these games again next year, so we have a massive week coming up with Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea. Now we have to concentrate and focus on that week.”

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