Obviously, there’s a lot being written and said about you over the last fortnight. Have you spoken to Ed or anyone at the club or are you just getting on with the job basically?
OGS: Yeh, of course, I’ve been in contact and communicated with the club as we normally do all the time anyway. It’s been a long international break but one we’ve utilised to our benefit, we feel. It’s been a good response from the players when they came in [has been good], and we’re ready for the Watford game.
Do you feel as though going back to Norway helped clear your mind a little bit because it’s been fairly intense, the position you’ve been in after the City game?
OGS: You know, international breaks are always periods to refresh and keep working on different things. This time around we had a few players having to pull out of internationals, so quite a few of them have been here through individual sessions, recovery sessions, rehab sessions. Some players were allowed to go abroad ro visit their families. It’s the same case every time when we come in, in the week before we start the games again. Everyone’s bright and ready. I’ve got to say this week has been a good week. We’ve had a chance to work with more or less everyone on quite a few things.
Can I ask you about Jesse Lingard? It was reported this morning that talks over a new deal for Jesse had stalled and that he was looking to go elsewhere in January on loan. Are you able to clarify that for us at all?
OGS: Jesse is training really hard, really well and he’s ready and available for me, definitely. He’s disappointed he’s not played more, of course. In regard to the contract situation and talks, I’ve not been in them very, very closely. So for me, Jesse is still a big part of this club, an important part. He gives energy to the group every day.
Given his lack of minutes this season, can you understand why he may be frustrated?
OGS: Every player wants to play as much as possible. The thing with Jesse and all my players, you know, they are working very hard and you can’t fault their attitude and they’re ready when they’re called upon when they’re playing. Jesse’s done well when he’s played for us. He knows, with all the games coming up, he’s going to play a part.
You were saying there how tough the last fortnight has been during the international break. With that in mind, how important is the game against Watford to set the right tone now moving forward?
OGS: Of course, we know, with a poor run of form we’ve put ourselves under pressure. But that pressure should be a joy, it should be something that makes us a better team, makes every player perform at the best level and a game we should go into and enjoy. You know, we’ve had, I don’t know how many games away from home. Of course, we lost against Leicester away from home but the unbeaten run we accumulated before that is something we need to draw some confidence from,. There are three away games now and that [Watford] is the one we’ve been focusing on, preparing for and it’s a very big game as every game in the Premier League is.
What state is the squad in?
OGS: Yeh, good. I have got to say this week has been really positive. Of course, there’s a couple of doubts with illnesses and small niggles. Paul is out still for a while, Rapha is out for a while still. But part from that, players will be coming back in, let’s call it, the near future. Some this weekend and some during the week. But that’s the same for every team that misses players.
Obviously, you’ve been away yourself and had players gone away on international duty, some of them doing really well. Do you feel they’ve had a change of mentality and come back refreshed?
OGS: I can’t say they’ve changed their mentality, that’s a wrong way of saying it. They love playing football, they enjoy playing football. They love winning. Of course, when we left each other 12-13 days ago, no one was happy when they left Old Trafford. But then, there’s another game and another game. They’ve enjoyed the competition for their countries and now they’re ready. I have got to say this week has been a very determined and focused group. We’ve worked on a few things that we know we need to improve on and hopefully we can see that against Watford.
How difficult is it after a defeat when your players go away on international duty, because I’m sure you’d try to get them all together to work on the big games that you’ve got coming up that you’ve got?
OGS: Yeh you’re right. The first thing you want to do after a defeat is to get back to the training ground and work on things. To be honest, as I said when we left for this international break, we feel it was a good time to refresh our minds. Some players have, as I said, stayed here working on individual recovery and fitness, some have been allowed to go home to their countries to freshen up their minds. But everyone’s kept in touch with staff and that’s one of the things we’ve learned over the last couple of years, with the technology after the pandemic, with the Zoom or Teams. My staff have worked really hard to get everyone ready. From Monday onwards we’ve worked really hard. We’ve corrected a few things, put a few things right. We’ve of course made sure we’ve prioritised a couple of things that needed to improve the most. I’m sure we’ll see a reaction and a good team performance tomorrow.
There have been so many rumours around your future in the latest weeks. Some are claiming that your time is coming towards an end and that you’re at Old Trafford on borrowed time. How do you feel? Do you feel safe in this situation? Do you feel the players and the board and everyone is pulling in the same direction?
OGS: Yeh, the players, the staff, myself, the club, we are working towards one goal and that is to improve and get better results. The fans are still supporting the team and the club. They’ve backed the team through the rebuild, of course. You know, when we lose a game, we’re always disappointed and under pressure. We’ve been communicating well, openly and honestly, as we always do. There’s one game now that matters but it’s also what comes after that. We’re all refreshed, this week has been really good in training and we’re ready for tomorrow.
I assume you’ve had some time to reflect after some of them dreadful results. What do you think has gone wrong and what’s going to change in the next bulk of games? And what fills you with confidence that you can get it back?
OGS: We’ve been through periods like this before. Our away form should give us confidence, what we’ve done. We’ve just gone 30 odd games away and lost one or whatever we have. Last season, we turned it around as well on a run with 20 games and one defeat. That’s the kind of run we have to get back. As I said, this week we’ve worked on a few things, we’ve prioritised a few things that we have to improve on. We know the run of form hasn’t been good and that performances haven’t been good enough. But we know we can do better, we know we should do better and we think we will do better. It’s down to performances on the day. Human beings, sometimes you hit the post and it goes out and sometimes it goes in. That can change the mood, the atmosphere. We just got to focus on getting a good start tomorrow and build on a good start.
You said you prioritised on a few things. Can you give us a clue on what they might be?
OGS: We’ve gone games now where we’ve concede chances. We can’t concede chances against against team. We’re playing against a Watford team that are well organised, very good at counter attacking and set plays. So focussing on this game you’ve got to make sure your defending is right. That is probably the dark side of the football that you know you have to work on, and we’ve put a lot of things right. But the patterns, the timing, the relationships when you’ve got the ball, and it’s looked really good in training, but it’s transferring that to the game.
When you went back to Norway, it’s understandable you deserve a break as well, but what do you do? Do you not watch a football match? Do you completely break off?
OGS: No, you can’t break off. You never do. We live and breathe football. You switch your phone off, spend time with your family, but you watch your players on the international stage, you analyse your own games. We’ve gone through in detail, the technology helps, so we can still keep in touch, we’ve worked hard on a few priorities. The staff are incredible. 24/7, they work to improve the state of the team. When we came back on Monday, everyone was ready to have a good week.
Harry Maguire, as the captain, has come in for criticism in recent weeks. By the high standards he’s set he has struggled. Roy Keane was critical of his goal celebration for England, saying he was a “disgrace” for Manchester United and “embarrassing”. Can you give us your view on Harry and why he’s struggled? And have you ever felt the need to take the captaincy off him to ease the pressure on his performance level?
OGS: As a team, we’ve not performed at the standard we know we can do, and at the levels we need to be at. Harry is, as Gareth rightly said, he’s not one to hide on the treatment table or try to find any excuse of sitting out games. He’s a top professional who wants to be there for the manager every single time. He trains really well and I think this week, going away and scoring a couple of goals for his country, will really help his form, his confidence. No, I’ve not considered taking the captain’s armband away from him. He’s been an absolute stalwart for the team and his family, his club, are very happy with him. We back him. He’s a top professional. And he’s going to prove critics wrong. I know the so-called experts have their opinions, and that’s their job to give their opinions, that’s not something we have to worry too much about. But as a true example of a Man United player, Harry is always there for his club and his country.
Van de Beek got a great ovation from the supporters when he came on against City. He’s only started twice in the league this year. What’s been the thinking behind holding him back? Is he at a level now where he can be starting for the club?
OGS: I think our fans, they can see a top professional and a very good player. Donny has never let anyone down. His approach to the game and training is spot on. I can’t fault him. He knows that. I keep in contact and I communicate with him. It’s not easy when players are not playing as much as they think they should do. Donny thinks he should be playing more and he will be involved. I can’t say anything but he’s another example of what to do when you’re not in the team, and he’ll reap his rewards.
Is Edinson Cavani available? And eight players started the same defeats against Leicester, Liverpool and City. How do you balance that with the squad that you’ve got? Do you try and trust the guys that have performed for you previously or do you try and shake it up?
OGS: Edinson unfortunately felt something in one of the sessions before City so had to pull out because he didn’t feel right. We’ve got to give him the time to feel right, so I can’t tell you if that’s tomorrow, or Tuesday, or Chelsea. So we’ll see how he is. That’s important. And with regards to team selection, the mix between shaking it up, trying to get a consistency, balance of who to bring in and who to take out. That’s the magic formula. You find the right team for every game. I’ve not sat down and said ‘these eight have lost these three games so they can’t play together anymore’. It’s finding the right solution for Watford and Villarreal. They’re the only two games in my mind at the moment.
You’ve played a back three or five in the last three games, but you hinted after the City game you don’t see it as a way forward for you. How difficult is it for you to balance out the way you want to play with the way you have to play?
OGS: The system is one thing, the style of play is so much more important. It’s on the front foot, passing forward, running forward, that we’re pressing high, dropping low. You can have the same style of play with different systems or formations. It’s execution and how we approach the game. Sometimes Man United have had wide wingers, we’ve had centre forwards up there for crosses, sometimes you have targets in to the feet. The main thing about it is that it’s an attacking way of football. We give the players the chance to express their talents within the framework that we set. 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the detail and strategy that we give for every game. But we have worked on two different ways. The way we’ve set up in the past few games, and the way for the majority in the 4-3-2-1 that we’ve had. We’ve had to make some minor adjustments in the past few weeks because we’ve had some players in form, out of form, injured or suspended. But I always want to see a United team going on to dominate and that’s what maybe led me to say what I did after the City game. I don’t want to see my team hanging in there waiting. Sometimes, if a team is better than us, you have to accept that.
Can I just ask about Paul Pogba’s injury? Is that a bad one? There was a suggestion in France it may be months rather than weeks before we see him again?
OGS: Yeh, I would say so. It was a disappointing injury for Paul. Disappointing time for him. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say how quickly he’ll heal. You hope, fingers crossed, six or seven weeks. Worst case scenario, ten, eleven or twelve weeks on muscle injuries like this. One thing I’m sure of is that Paul is determined to come back and give his best when he comes back. He’s already started that recovery with his own mentality. Paul has that love for football. Hopefully just after Christmas we can see him.