Manchester United play Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final on Sunday evening. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Bruno Fernandes spoke to the press.
How’s the team looking on the fitness and injury front? And can you sum up how important this match is for Manchester United and for yourself?
OGS: We’ve had a few good days now preparing, recovering and training. It’s not very often that we have six days between games. We’re ready. Physically definitely ready. Mentally the boys will be ready. For a semi-final, all the boys want to take part and join in. I just want them to enjoy it. For me, I’m looking forward to it. Twice already we’ve been in a semi now this season. We’re happy with going as far as we have but we’re not satisfied. We want to go one step further.
How important is it to start well against Sevilla? In the two previous games against Sevilla we didn’t start particularly well and against Copenhagen the team improved much more in the second half.
OGS: I think in any game it’s important to start well. We talk about it, we practice and we prepare for a good start. But definitely against good teams, if you start on the back foot, if you don’t get your first touches, you don’t get your first tackle, you’re going searching a little bit. You’re playing against a team full of quality and if you don’t get touches of the ball it’ll be hard.
Bruno, you’ve had a phenomenal start to your United career. With you scoring all the penalties, it’s drawn comparisons with Eric Cantona. What do you make of those comparisons with such a legendary figure in United’s history?
BF: For me, it’s really good to hear people talking about those names. But for me Cantona was an amazing player for the club. I need to do much, much better to be compared with him. I’m happy with what I’ve done but I’m not satisfied, like the coach said. For me, coming to Manchester is about winning trophies. I came to this club to win trophies and I will be happy at the end of this season if we win the Europa League.
Can I ask about Sergio Romero and how much you admire the way he’s able to have long periods where he’s not playing first team football but then can come in to an important game and still perform to that level and how difficult it might be for a goalkeeper to do that?
OGS: I think Sergio is in a unique situation because he’s in a goalkeeper department with one of the best goalkeepers over the last 10 years. David has been exceptional. But it says everything about Sergio’s professionalism and his qualities that whenever he plays, he performs. He’s experienced, he always knows how to prepare, his concentration, his focus is fantastic. He’s been a very, very good goalkeeper for us. He is a very good goalkeeper for us.
Bruno, you’ve settled in really well. Lots of players find it difficult to settle in to the Premier League. How have you found it? Why has it been so easy for you?
BF: I can’t say it was easy but of course we’ve had good results and have been scoring goals. But for me, it was easy because the team helped me a lot. Everyone at the club helped me, the staff, the coach, everyone gave me a lot of confidence, so it was much easier for me. I had already played in Italy so I know how it is to be out of my country playing in a different league. Of course, the Premier League is completely different, but like I said I have the confidence from my teammates and the coach, and I think things are going really well because when you have confidence from everyone you can play your game and try to your best.
I don’t know if you saw the clip of a Spanish commentator that has gone viral after the Sevilla game. He was watching Traore accelerating towards goal and it used a car sound. I saw Greenwood accelerate towards goal at that same pace time and time again, despite the stifling heat in Cologne, do you think that commentator might need some throat sweets to get through the game? And how important is it to have fresh and fast legs like that in your squad?
OGS: It was a special clip and it’s not easy to defend against Traore. As you say, we have some quick players up front ourselves. We want to be direct. We want to be positive in our football. But that’s not our only quality. We’ve shown now that when teams drop deep we can create chances as well and the man next to me here has been instrumental in us creating chances, both on the counter attack and in established play. We’ll have to see how the game pans out. Will we get the first goal? That’s important in games like this. We’ve prepared well.
Bruno, you talk about the players that have helped you. Can you give us a conversation or a moment that was special to you and made you feel like you belong?
BF: I think when a club pays for a player, £55m, you have confidence from the club. Everything started from there. All the conversations I have with the coach and with my teammates, and as I said before, the coach all the time speaks to me all the time and tells me to play my game, to do what I did in Sporting, to have same confidence, to try the same things and to improve. So when you have that voice to play your own game it’s easier for you.
You’ve mentioned the two semi-final defeats already this season. What have you and the players learnt so you can ensure tomorrow is a different outcome for you?
OGS: When you come to a semi-final you’re playing against good teams with quality. It’s time to step up for big players. Big game moments. You have to have 100% focus. Any little moment can change the game, it can win you the game, lose you the game, and we’ve learnt it’s very painful to lose a semi-final.
You’ve mentioned the big break between games. UEFA have done that so there can be a game each day with the Champions League and Europa League. Had it been a bit shorter, you could have played the final this weekend and it wouldn’t have cut in to your preparation time for next season. Have you got any concerns with the schedule?
OGS: Absolutely no concerns about next season at the moment. We have a good possibility to finish the season and this is the only way we could have finished it. For the supporters, I think to have a game on telly every day has been very important. You look forward to the games at night. I think that’s been helpful. We have to use it as preparation for this tournament but it’s also like a pre-season for next season. It’s not very long until we have to get going again. It is what it is. We have to be clever with how we rest people, when we train, when we play. It’s just the time we’re in. We can’t complain because this is the world we’re in.
Is it safe to say that your players won’t get enough rest before the next season starts?
OGS: It’s no point me worrying about it. The authorities will give us as much rest as we can. Hopefully we have 30 days at least before we start, which means we can give them a two week holiday but they probably can’t travel wherever they want. It gives us two weeks to prepare for the first game. It is what it is and I can’t see a reason why I should be complaining. I’ve just got to look after them when I can throughout the season and hopefully some national team coaches will do the same as well.
Sevilla are unbeaten in 19 games. What do you need to do to beat them tomorrow?
OGS: Score more goals than them.
How are you going to do that?
OGS: It’s not as easy as that. They’re a good, very well organised team, aggressive style of play, pressing. They’ve got some very good individuals so we have to play our best game. We have to be able to keep the ball when we can, play out of their press and be clever, creative. We have to step up in the big moments, the last pass, the finish. These games will so often be decided on a set piece or an individual piece of brilliance by some players.
Did you watch the Barcelona game and what did you make of it?
OGS: We watched it. I have to say, Bayern Munich are setting the standard at the moment and throughout the season. The new coach has come in and they’ve been absolutely brilliant. They’re aggressive, they press, they run, their recovery runs, they technically adapt. It was a top class performance by a top team.