Ahead of Manchester United’s second leg against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final, Solskjaer spoke to the press.
We’ve been here with PSG, which felt like an impossible challenge. Does this feel the same? Or has that experience made the players feel like anything is possible?
OGS: Well of course it’s that memory from PSG will help the players. It will help us as a team know that we can turn things around. Barcelona here at the Nou Camp is difficult prospect. But the memory of that night will live with the players. It’s not that long ago and we are one goal better off.
Looking at the performances before and after the PSG game, the biggest difference seems to be the efficiency in front of goal. How do you explain that? And do you see any other major changes before and after?
OGS: That’s the hundred million dollar question in football. Who can score the goals? If we create chances then we have to take them. That’s why the best strikers are the most expensive ones. We have been practising finishing. Last time we had a couple of decent chances but of course when you don’t work the goalkeeper you can’t score. For us it is about confidence, being focussed and concentrating when we get a chance. We know we carry a goal threat but it’s about taking a deep breathe and taking those chances.
There’s been a few controversial hand ball incidents in the Champions League this year and one of them got you here after that late penalty in Paris. What’s your opinion of VAR? Do you think the handball rule should be changed?
OGS: It’s a discussion that will probably keep on going when it’s still down to opinion. Diogo’s shot was going towards goal, his hand is out. I would understand if the referee said it wasn’t a penalty, it’s a corner kick. But we also understand why he gave a penalty. That’s always going to be a discussion. When human errors occur… offside, not offside. Like their goal against us, for example, when Barcelona scored and the linesman said it was offside but you could factually say it was onside, I think that’s correct. But I think when you’ve got an opinion, like France in the World Cup final, I don’t think that’s a penalty. So it’s a difficult one. Let’s hope they get it right, and let’s hope they don’t drag it out too long. The fans want something to talk about, to cheer about. It was a strange 45 seconds when they scored against us at Old Trafford with us waiting. But when it’s fact, you can’t come back with an argument. When we got a penalty at PSG we could sit and argue until we’re blue in the face. 50% would say not a penalty and 50% would say yes. It’s down to the referee’s opinion.
Matic and Sanchez have travelled with the squad. How are they now physically? Can they play from the start? And for Sanchez especially, coming back to Barcelona, to show what he can do?
OGS: Fitness wise they are available. Of course for Alexis who has been here and played here, it’s a big night. When he is on the pitch he wants to prove a point and to prove a point for us as well. He’s been injured, he’s not had a fantastic season so far. Let’s hope he can end the season great for us, because we are now in the business end of the season. We are playing games that Man United are used to playing. Of course, we are challenging for top four in the league but we are also challenging for a semi-final. It used to be challenging to win the league and semi-final. Llet’s hope Alexis when he is on the pitch he can be happy with his performance.
How does it feel for you returning to the Nou Camp after what happened here in 1999 for Manchester United?
OGS: Many emotions, it’s a fantastic memory for me. The last time I was on the pitch was the only time I’ve been on the pitch here actually. I’ve been in the stands. I brought my young son to watch El Clasico in 2016. I bought some tickets and we were up in the stands very high up. And I was here 10 days ago to watch them against Atletico Madrid. I don’t look back on that night too often. I don’t know how I’ll feel. I’m just looking forward to seeing if we can play better against Barcelona. We need to be focussed. We need to play better. That’s my job now.
The last English team to beat Barcelona here were Chelsea in 2012. You probably remember that performance. They only needed a draw and had very little possession. If you had to do that, would that or could that be an approach this particular team could use?
OGS: Well, we didn’t stamp our authority on the game at home, we didn’t keep the ball as well as we should have and didn’t create enough chances. And you have to do that against Barcelona. I think it’s some freak results, when you have 80% percent and they don’t win. But normally they would win. We know we need to perform better than 80-20, we need to stamp our authority on the game, get on the ball and play ourselves. It has to be like that. If you give players like Suarez, Messi and Coutinho time on the ball you will suffer. I hope we’re not going to be camped outside our own box.
Is it harder to beat Barcelona than it was to score two goals in injury time against Bayern Munich?
OGS: I was a player back then! In football anything can happen. We know we can still be in this tie. If we keep a clean sheet, we can still be in the tie in the 93rd minute. We could get a set pieces, we’re physically taller than them, we’re bigger than them. It’s about the quality though. We are going to have to defend well and going forward we need to score. I don’t mind if it’s in the 93rd minute. If we can get to injury time. We are a fit team, we are getting fitter and fitter.
In the short term and long term, what are the biggest challenges that you face as Manchester United manager?
OGS: I think short-term of course is tomorrow night. The game tomorrow night is my only focus. I can’t spend too long to discuss what we are going to do in the future. I think that’s wrong. At the moment, all I am thinking is getting a performance tomorrow, that’s we’ll create enough chances for us to score and stop them getting enough chances for them to score. We are now 1-0 down, half-time, but if it is a game with many goals in it we stand a bigger chance.
We spoke to some fans in Manchester after the first leg and they said they were afraid that Paul Pogba would leave in the summer for Real Madrid. What is your message for those fans?
OGS: At the moment, Paul’s focus is on Man United and performing here tomorrow night. He’s been fantastic since I’ve come here and I have no doubt that he’ll play for Man United and perform as he has done lately. I don’t think they should worry too much.
Before you came here in 99 you rang a friend of yours and said ‘I think something special is going to happen tonight’. Do you believe in fate? Do you believe that something like that can happen again?
OGS: I believe that you get what you deserve in sport. If you put your life and effort and determination and everything in, you get exactly what you deserve. Sometimes people have said to me it has to be our year, it’s 20 years on, I played in number 20. But to go through we have to perform and have to deserve it. You can’t say we’re just going to rely on fate, no.
In a situation like this how important is it to believe you’re going to win and how do you help your players believe that they’re going to win?
OGS: Belief is massive. Everyone’s got talent and everyone’s got a certain ability. But we’ve seen ourselves against PSG when 2-0 down that we have the ability to come back against a massive team. Historically, Barcelona is the best of the last 10 years, so we know it’s going to be a massive effort. But the players have shown it before. If we give our all, get that better concentration… we slept for a second, even though they had a lot of the ball, but they kept the ball and we just switched off as Busquets got five yards and played that pass to Messi. So for us we know that belief is one thing, and concentration and effort is another.
Some of your best results have been away from home. PSG and before you got here Juventus. Can you put your finger on why the results have been better away from home?
OGS: Maybe teams are a bit more open against us. Maybe they feel they have to try to get their goals. Maybe it is coincidence. Maybe it’s because we scored the first goal. We scored against PSG after two minutes, that is a big massive factor in a game of football. Football games are decided on decisions and mentality. That changed the mentality because they started worrying about us getting another one. It’ll be the same for us tomorrow. If we get the first goal that is going to be so important then we are level and from then on a draw would suit us. It’s also quality. We’ve got players with quality. Like when Juan scored that freekick against Juventus. We have got the players. Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s David at the other end saving. When we beat Tottenham in the league, that was down to the keeper.
Barcelona is a team who have played in different styles this season. Lately they’ve played counter-attack in La Liga. Seeing the result you got at Old Trafford, would you expect for Barcelona not to fight for ball possession tomorrow?
OGS: It’s in the DNA of players always wanting to dominate and control games. We are the same. I think if we can control and dominate with the ball, we’d like to take it, and I think they’d want to take it. I can’t see them giving us easy possession to allow them to counter-attack on us. We expect to come here and to work really hard to get on the ball, so when we have it, we have to use it really well. But they have qualities on the counter with Dembele. He is one of the quickest our defenders could play against, and Messi who we know about. We have to be ready for their counter-attacks when we attack and we have to be ready to defend really well when they have possession. It’s not like either or.
You say that you are stronger and fitter and maybe if you could get to the end of the game, have a corner kick or a cross, and that will be good for you. Are you thinking about a more physical game tomorrow than a fast passing game?
OGS: No, no. Of course, if we get set pieces, if we’ve got the quality in the team, we have to use it better than we did last week. We put many, many crosses in against Barcelona last week, but Gerard and Lenglet defended really well. That might not be the case for how to break down the Barcelona team. Sometimes it is counter-attack, sometimes it’s quick play. We have top be the best we can be in all the qualities. Technically, physically, mentally and tactically. We are playing against a fantastic team and we have to be realistic enough to see that we have to perform at the best level to have a chance against a team like this.
What do you think about Coutinho for next season?
OGS: He’s a Barcelona player.
When you first came in, your go-to front three was Rashford, Lingard and Martial. That’s been really disrupted by injury and other things. If they’re involved, how important is it that you get a big performance from Lingard and Anthony, that they get back to delivering what they were in the first weeks under you?
OGS: It’s very important because we need to score goals. If it’s Romelu, Jesse, Anthony, Alexis, we need big performances from our forward players. We have to defend well but we need that little bit of extra to score against teams like this. I expect that whoever is going to start tomorrow knows that when they’re on the pitch we want to see some good form, because we weren’t good enough against them at home.
Barcelona got to rest the whole team at the weekend and you had to play for an important match. How do you see effecting the game tomorrow?
OGS: Sometimes it’s beneficial to get a rest, sometimes it’s great to play a game. For some of our players, we rested a few, five changes from Wednesday to Saturday? It shouldn’t be a factor. Physically we’re ready and we can deal with it. I expect my players to be ready. You mobilise, you’re playing at the Nou Camp against a fantastic team, and I know they’re going to run until the cramp will take them.