Could we start with some team news please? There were quite a few out in your previous game against Brentford. Sancho, will he be available for selection tomorrow?
RR: He didn’t train yesterday because he still asked us to be able to not train. He attended that funeral on Wednesday. It’s still affected him quite a lot. He is expected back today at three o’clock. Right now it’s not sure if he will be available for the game tomorrow because it was an important member of family, someone he was close to all his life. Therefore I have to wait and see. I’ll speak to him during training and after training and then we will make a decision on whether he will be available for tomorrow.
In regards to the other night, we’ve just heard Victor Lindelof’s house was broken into while his family were at home. How is he and how is the club supporting him and his family?
RR: I spoke with him at length on our flight back home from London. And also this morning we spoke for about 20, 25 minutes this morning. He told me what had actually happened and that this was really a traumatic event especially for his wife and three-year-old son. He said to me that he right now needs to stay at home. He doesn’t want to leave his wife and family on their own, which I can fully understand, being a father of two children myself. We agreed that he will not be training today and won’t be available tomorrow for the game.
There’s been lots of talk this week about Jesse Lingard’s future. There’s also lots of speculation linking Manchester United to all manner of players. What is the latest on Jesse and, in an ideal world, I know January isn’t the easiest market but would you like to make a January signing?
RR: With regard to Jesse, it’s the same as with quite a few other players. He’s a really good player, I can see that in every training session, for me it’s normal that other clubs like, for example, Newcastle show interest in him. But I’m not the one who is dealing with that. I know there might be some interest from other clubs but if you ask me now what will happen in the next 10 days until the closure of the window, I cannot answer that question I’m afraid.
Can I ask you about Diogo Dalot? He’s not someone who was playing so much before you came but he’s become far more regular. What’s he doing right to stay in your team? In which areas is he impressing you and where does he need to improve?
RR: I mean, offensively, he has a lot of assets. He’s somebody who can deliver crosses from the wing and he’s also able take on players in one on one situations. The areas he can still improve, where there is space for improvement, is obviously in his defensive work. He’s not that much of a defensive full-back but more of an offensive full-back. This is normal, there are quite a few other full-backs in other clubs where it’s the same. Quite a few of those full-backs formerly played as right or left wingers. So far, with the development since I’m here of Diogo and Alex Telles I am happy. They get more game time right now because Luke is injured and Aaron is still ill. So yeh, I’m happy to have those two players available. As I said, offensively both of them have their assets and their strengths but defensively there is still some space for improvement.
Just going back to Jesse, is it just the case that he’s simply worth more to you in the squad, should you need to call on him in case of illness or injury, as opposed to any potential fee, permanent or loan, you might be able to get this month?
RR: Well as I said, it’s also a question of what does the player want, what options does he really have? Does he see a chance to get more game time there? Those are all questions that I cannot answer for him or for other players. This is something that has to be done by the players and their agents themselves. What I can say is he’s a very good player, a technical player and of course he can play in many Premier League clubs on a regular basis. Here at Manchester United it’s not so easy as we have other players who can also play in that position and we cannot change from one game to the other five or six positions. Therefore, as I said, for him, I know his contract is expiring in the summer, the question is what does he want to do? Does he want to get more game time from now on? Therefore it’s quite legitimate to speak about other options, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if he stayed until the rest of season because I know he is a player who can always play, even if we need to play him from the start. I know what kind of level I will get from him. That’s how I would describe the situation.
If Man United are going to wait until the summer for transfers, how big of a building process is that going to be, not knowing whether you’re going to be the interim manager next season or whether it’s going to be somebody else?
RR: Well my full focus, as I have indicated early on, is to win games with this team. In order to win games we need to develop as a team and we need to improve in some areas. I think we’ve done so in the last couple of weeks but there is still more space for that in vast areas of our game. This is where my focus is and I’m not that much dealing with other things that might happen in three or four or five months. This is an issue that is not on the top of my list. Top of my list is how we can win the game with West Ham and after the international break, the upcoming games, in the cup against Middlesbrough, Burnley. We are playing Southampton at home, Brighton at home. This is where my focus is.
I’d like to talk to you about your comments you made about moving to three at the back. You said you wished you had done it during the Aston Villa game and then you did implement that during the Brentford game. How are you finding the adaptation process during games and knowing when to change three at the back as it were and how to bring your methods to this Manchester United team?
RR: Well in a way football is a little bit like chess. Things can change so quickly during a game. Having last night’s semi-final in the Carabao Cup you could see things can change from one minute to the other. In some parts of the game you are dominating the game and pinning a team back into their half and their box and all of a sudden it can be different. Therefore it’s also important to be able to react on what a game needs and what a team needs. ANd n fact we had exactly the same constellation at Brentford that we had at Villa. 70 minutes played, 2-0 up against a team that will not give up. Even in the Premier League even after 3-0 down teams tend to not just give up a game. For me it was logical, with the negative experience we had at Villa Park, to do it different this time. For me, it was clear that we bring on Harry and then defend this 2-0 result. In the end we even scored the third one on the counter-attack and from then on it was clear we were going to win the game.
This method of experience, are we to understand that if this constellation would appear again that you would go for the same method of three at the back?
RR: Yes, I think all teams in football should be able to play different formations. With our centre-back constellation, we should always be able to play with a back three. Even under Ole, the team played at times in the Champions League against Atalanta or in the Premier League away at Tottenham with a back three. So why shouldn’t we be able to play with a back three, with the kind of quality centre-backs we have and the same with our full-backs? We spoke earlier on about Diogo and about Alex Telles. They are both offensively strong, so they would be even more valuable as wing-backs. So for me, I would do it again but I would also not exclude at times in the season altering the philosophy to a back three. In order to do that we also need some training time. This could, for example, happen in the week after the international break that we can train like that. It is also depending on the players that are being available.
Obviously the defensive substitution meant that Ronaldo went off and he reacted the way that he did. I don’t know if you’ve managed to speak to him again since then? I wonder how you deal with the situation because he’s such a big name, he attracts such attention and any kind of displeasure gets reported on and magnified. How do you deal with that?
RR: Well I think we shouldn’t make too much of a fuss out of it. I can only speak for myself and my coaching staff. I explained that to him, even during the game when we had that little conversation after we scored the third goal. In fact, I told him the same as what I just said in our press conference. The job of a football manager is to help teams win games. For me it was clear after the experience being made at Villa Park that this time we have to do things better. We did it better and the only question was who do we take off? Of course, Cristiano is a prolific goalscorer as a player will always want to play and score goals. He was also asking: “Why me? Why not take off one of the younger players?” The answer to that came five minutes later when one of the younger players scored the third goal. Maybe Cristiano could have also scored that third but football is not always about maybe. It’s about taking the decision in the right moment. Until then we were 2-0 up and Cristiano gave the assist for the second goal, when he chested the ball to Bruno. This was tactically, by the way, one of the best situations in the game, that our central striker came towards the ball and at the same time, Bruno as one of our eights was sprinting vertical. This was the reason why we, in the end, were able to create an easy tap-in goal for Mason, but again he hasn’t been substituted, I believe, for the first time in his career. I think there have been other substitutions, even under Sir Alex. That a player like Cristiano doesn’t like to be substituted, for me, is pretty normal. His reaction was emotional, but for me this is not a problem at all. I’ve been managing other players, maybe not with quite as a big a name as Cristiano but I also had players like Krasimir Balakov, like a young Klaas Huntelaar, or Raul at Schalke, Ebbe Sand. So I know how offensive players behave and react to this sort of substitution but again it’s about our team, it’s about getting points. We are in a position where every single game is of great importance to where we need to make sure we get the maximum amount of points out of it. This is the most important part. The team is more important than… it doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s Cristiano, Edinson or Bruno, any other player. Bruno has also been substituted and he was not happy with that in the last couple of weeks. It is about what is in the best interests of the team and the club.
You said once that 30 per cent of goals are scored from set-pieces so 30 per cent of training sessions should then focus on that. United have 114 corners in the Premier League this season yet haven’t scored from one of them, can you put your finger on as to why that is and why the corners haven’t been good enough?
RR: Well, in the end, yes, it is a question of training time, but it is also a question of deliveries. This is maybe a little weird, to be honest, given we have players who should be technically able to deliver the balls in the right way. But we still have to work on and still need to improve on in that area. At least we did score after a free-kick from Bruno’s goal at Villa, but I fully agree. We haven’t also conceded in the last weeks and months, but we should also be more effective and more dangerous on set-pieces ourselves. It’s a question of training but it’s also a question of quality of deliveries, even more so, when it’s free-kicks from the side or corner kicks.
With Victor, the other players will be aware of this too, is this security around their families something the club would look into in the future? Whilst the club are away and even, I suppose, during home games too?
RR: Yes, for sure. We are set to have a meeting in our hotel this evening and the club is set to speak to the players about what kind of measures can be taken to increase the level of security and what is necessary for the club to do to support the players. This is something that will be ongoing in the next couple of weeks and, hopefully, the aim is to make their houses and homes more secure in the future.
Just on Ronaldo, I understand what you say about the emotion and that he wants to stay on the pitch. But do you accept that it doesn’t look very good to the other players when he seems to be challenging you and he’ll know that the cameras are on him?
RR: I didn’t see or interpret it as him challenging me. He just showed, maybe too emotionally, that he was not happy to be replaced. But as I said, this was not the first time. If you look back at the moments where Sir Alex replaced him or Sarri did in the past, his reaction was pretty similar. This shows, in the end, that it doesn’t matter which manager at the time, it’s about his own ambition and his own desire to stay on the pitch. Again, it is a team sport and, for us, it is important to get the most out of each game, the maximum points. It’s on the manager to decide what do we need right now to secure the game. And what kind of weapons do we need to score on the counter-attack? I’m not one of those to say afterwards what I did after the game was perfect, but in this case, all the things that I hoped would result from that decision, they were confirmed in the end. I think Cristiano will also be a manager one day, perhaps in the next couple of years or ten years. He will, as a manager, experience that himself and, again, I don’t blame him for acting like that. But any manager would wish that it shouldn’t be too emotional, even more so in front of the cameras as I don’t believe it benefits anyone, for him or his teammates. But in the end, it’s an emotional game, players are being emotional and I didn’t take it personal at all. In that moment, he wanted to stay on the pitch and wanted to play on. I can understand that from the view he might feel as if he could have gone on to score one or two more goals. With the experience and the very disappointing experience at Villa Park, for me it was logical to act in a different way this time.
You said every game is of the upmost importance until the end of the season, how vital is it to secure those ambitions of a top-four finish before the end of the season, in order to also attract the calibre of player you need at the club?
RR: Yes, of course it would be helpful if we knew that we were going to play Champions League football next season. Not only for new players we would like here, but also to help aid the existing squad too. Everyone would like to play in the Champions League, but everyone also knows there are only two pathways to gain qualification. Either we finish in the top four in the Premier League, and this is not easy to achieve, but also, this season, there is still a lot of competition for at least that final fourth spot in the table. The other way is to win the Champions League yourself. We all know both is not easy but it is more realistic and we are more able or possible to plan or to develop to finish in the top four in the Premier League than, from now on, to say we plan to win the Champions League. This is what I told the boys before the game against Brentford.
You’ve started your last two games with the captain on the bench. Will Harry come back in to the team now given what’s happened to Victor? And are there any areas in Harry’s game you feel he can improve to get back in the team and stay in the team?
RR: From the first day I arrived, Harry played and was already firmly within the starting XI. He received an injury in the Burnley game that ruled him out for the next two-three games and now he is back to full fitness, as he came on against Brentford. I explained to him that I didn’t want to change anything because I thought Victor and Rapha were doing well and the partnership worked well. Now with Victor being out, Harry will play from the beginning tomorrow and again be the captain of the team. In a back four, it’s not only the individual performance, but also how they co-operate and how they work together. It is not the first time that Harry and Rapha will play together as they did it quite a few times in the last couple of months. I’m very positive it will be a good partnership once more in tomorrow’s game.
You’ve not had a lot of time on the training pitch since you arrived. There’s a little break after Saturday. How are you planning to use that? Can you afford to give the players some time off? Some players are going on warm weather training camps. What do you have planned?
RR: The players will have a couple of days off and we will then resume for training on Saturday and have a normal full week of training ahead of the game against Middlesbrough. I think this is more important than training all the way through the whole two weeks. Going to a training camp with all those covid restrictions and having to deal with going back and forth wouldn’t have made sense, there would have perhaps been a few players who wouldn’t have been able to fly. So it doesn’t make sense to travel with two-thirds of a squad and with four players away on international duty too. To travel with only half the squad doesn’t make sense, hence why we decided not to do it and we would much rather have a normal week of preparation ahead of the game against Middlesbrough.