Ahead of Manchester United’s game against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken to the press.
You’ve had two fantastic team performances against Newcastle and PSG. How important do you think that was for the belief and the confidence for your side?
OGS: Of course, it’s very important. If you lose games you’re determined you want to win the next one. You want to bounce back. I could see that focus before the Newcastle game and, of course, if you win against PSG that gives you more belief and confidence. Two very good performances and results, but now is the next game and that’s what we’re focused on.
Chelsea it is next. They’ve made a lot of changes over the summer. How would you assess their start to the season?
OGS: Well, it’s a bit like many of us, there’s been some very good games and some less good performances. I think football is just settling now and I think teams are getting into their shape. We know it’s going to be a tough game against Chelsea – we had four games against them last season, I think maybe four or five the season before, so it’s two teams that know each other really well.
We haven’t seen an awful lot of Donny van de Beek as yet. He hasn’t started a Premier League game yet. Is that down to fitness, competition for places, or just an integration process because it’s something new?
OGS: Donny is fit enough. But of course, it’s competition for places, it’s giving him time to settle in and to adjust to his new team-mates. It’s a new league. He’s a top footballer, a top personality, so humble and hard working, but, of course, eager to play more. As I’ve said so many times, you’ll see him throughout the season. It’s going to be a long, long season and he’s impressed me.
I just wanted to ask you about Mason Greenwood, hopefully he’s fit. You’ve played alongside people who are going to be the next big thing at Old Trafford, you know the pressures that come with that. Take us through what the club does to make sure that progress is smooth and some of the pressure are made easier for people like that.
OGS: I think as the club we have a great record and tradition and history of bringing our players through. That means from early on they have good habits, we trust you, you can express yourself. Mason has come through this programme and has done fantastic. He’ll be kicking on, I’m sure. Of course, he’s a very, very exciting boy to work with.
Are you a little bit concerned that he’s making a bit of a target for himself?
OGS: Er, who’s making a target of himself? Mason? Well, you do when you play well. I’m not concerned at all with Mason making a target for himself because he’s come in and played fantastic. He played his first league game against Tottenham last season and he’s just kicked on. Yeh, he made a mistake this summer with England and suddenly the whole English press go after him. That’s something we have to look after. He’s a fantastic boy to work with. I have to disappoint you, he’s never late for training, he’s never a problem when he’s on the training ground. He’s always on time. I’ve seen some of the stories and even some ex-United players talking about him and they don’t really know anything that they’re talking about. We’ve got photographers outside the training ground every day, so you can see he’s on time every day. I don’t know where these stores have come from and I just have to say he has a good family around him. He has a good background in the academy and he’s a good trainer. He trains really well. I can’t believe all these stories about about him not being professional. Anyway, that’s something that we have to deal with, with many players. Many other players at United have had that.
Just in terms of your team, you’ve had a fabulous week and that’s 10 in a row now away from home, yet only one win in five, including last season, at home. Two obviously pretty bad performances at home. What is the difference between playing away and playing at home, because you’ve got three big games coming up?
OGS: I disagree with 10 in a row because we lost in the semi-finals to Chelsea and Sevilla. They were two away games for me anyway – okay, two neutral. No, but we need to address our home form. We need to look at the way we prepare maybe. It’s maybe something I’ve got to deal with. The whole lockdown period has made us do things differently at home, so we might have to do it a different way.
You were obviously missing a few players the other night – is Harry Maguire available? Will Mason come back in? And what’s the situation with Edinson Cavani, will he be available to play tomorrow?
OGS: I hope and expect all three of them to be available for selection. We’ve got a training session this morning, but yeh I think they’ve got a chance, all of them. Edinson, he wants to tick all the boxes that he’s gone through in his programme and feel ready to make an impact. I think his last preparation was going to be today and then I’ll have a discussion with him. It seemed positive yesterday with both Mason and Harry, so hopefully.
Marcus was the talk of the town in Paris the other night and continues to be off the field. Is there anything else you can say about him and the work he does?
OGS: Probably not, but he’s now at the stage, you know, we all speak about Marcus as this experienced boy and he’s 23 soon. It’s a twilight from being a talent to being experienced and you can see more and more of that experience coming out. We hope, and we trust, that Marcus’ background here, his background with his family, will keep him just developing and kick on in his career because around about now is the time you’ll see him, hopefully, divide himself from being a good player, to be a very, very good player.
I guess that you have observed what’s going on with the Norwegian national team right now, Ole. With the inside leak and the public discussions between Alexander Sorloth, I’m just wondering, regardless of what team it is, how damaging is this sort of leak? And what do you think of this particular case?
OGS: I can’t comment on this particular case, but in a group and a team you’re like a family and you’ve got to say you’re disappointed if some things come out of the dressing room, especially if they’re true. I’ve had many stories leaking out of the United dressing room which aren’t true. That’s a different story, making stories up. But when it’s confirmed from inside discussions, I’m sure the national team leaders and coaches are disappointed.
It’s the first game back at Old Trafford since the 6-1 defeat. Would victory erase the memory of that and almost complete the comeback of that day?
OGS: I don’t think anything will erase that memory because it will always be in the history books and we’ve always got to live with having that result and that performance. You can look back at that performance and the different reasons why we ended up with that result. But we’ve got to focus on moving on and going forward. It’s happened so many times at this club where you’ve had results that maybe come out of the blue, or setbacks that you have to bounce back from and so far, we’ve bounced back well, but now it’s about consistency.
Can I ask about Axel after the way he played, how he’s been training and what his future is likely to be now after so many injuries?
OGS: It was a great performance by a kid who has not played for 10 months. I’m delighted for him because he’s such a professional character. He wants everything; he works really hard, he’s been really, really thorough in his rehab. I’m very pleased for him. Now to get the consistency in his performances, he has to stay injury-free and we’ve got to manage that. That’s mine and his job, and the physio staff as well, of course. But I think he can kick on, he’s such a leader. He can play centre-back, right-back, he can play centre-midfield, he can play many positions. He’s a boy who takes responsibility for his own development. Now I’m sure he’s doing everything he can to have a long career at United, so hopefully he can get this consistency.
You changed the system the other night, with wing-backs and two up front, what do you like about that formation? And do you think you’re in a better position to play that formation with the signings you made this summer?
OGS: I think as a coach you want a foundation to play from. The players want a consistency in instructions and that we are a little bit ahead of the next situation. But with the players we’ve got now, we can swap and change a little bit. We felt with the injuries we had and the opposition we met that was the right way of staring. It was a debut for Alex, Axel was back again, so we didn’t think twice about that really. It gives us flexibility. There might be times later on in the season where we play this again, or now, or back to the back four. With the signings we’ve made we’ve got more options.
After two really good results, it’s a drastic turnaround from the Tottenham game. But where there have been so many crazy results in the Premier League this season, do you think from your perspective and the club’s perspective it’s possible to go for the title this season, because it is so open?
OGS: Well, the league this season has started strangely. It is a very strange atmosphere in the stadiums, it’s not the same. It’s not like it used to be. Without the fans it’s more sterile. After the win against PSG you feel it’s almost like you’ve been to the training ground and done well in training. So of course the edge is missing. For me now we need consistency. We’ve been too much up and down. We need to address the home form. The next week is a great test for us because we all remember what happened after the last time we beat PSG – the response wasn’t the greatest. This week is a chance for our players, and also for the staff, to show that we’ve moved on from that time.
From your conversations with Mason, what do you think he’s learnt this summer? And do you think he now knows the scrutiny he’s under that he wasn’t a year ago, now playing for Manchester United and England. Do you think now the penny’s dropped with him?
OGS: I think Mason learnt a harsh lesson this summer. It’s just the reality that when you do well at Man United you’ll be under the spotlight, whether it’s for the good or bad. The more bad decisions, the more likely you are to be followed. When you play well you keep yourself out of the limelight. He’s never been an issue here at training. He trains really well. I really enjoy seeing him develop and I hope he’s shaken off his illness and is ready for this weekend.
Just what you were saying about Edinson and his fitness regime. He he arrived with a specific thing for him? And what has he added to the group in training?
OGS: When he’s been away from football for so long, he needed a pre-season. He’s naturally fit and has been looking after himself. He had two weeks in quarantine but we did provide him with all the facilities, like a gym and a treadmill. He posted a few running sessions that he did. There’s your foundation. Now when he comes in with us he’s getting more football session individualised, so he feels more ready to train with the team and play with the team. He’s been meticulous and very methodical in his training and preparation. He didn’t feel ready for the PSG game because it was too early for him. He hadn’t done enough sharpness work. He’s managed to do that this week. Let’s see if that means he’s ready for the Chelsea game. I’m hopeful.
There was talk in the summer of you being interested in another centre-back. Was your faith in him a reason why that wasn’t a priority?
OGS: We’ve always known that Axel is a very good centre-back and if he stays fit he’ll play a lot of games for us because he has all the attributes a centre-back at Man United needs. He can play right-back and centre-mid, he played left-back last season even against Arsenal, he played a fantastic game except for one pass. We now need to keep him injury-free and keep him out there on the training ground, playing games, training ground, so he gets all the work. He’s missed too much football early on in his career. But we knew he was due round about this time to be fit and he’s worked really hard. We believe in the kid, that’s for sure. He’s proven that in glimpses. Now it’s about being consistent.
You mentioned before changing things for home games. What do you mean by that? How you prepare? Where you stay? And also, when you see games like Tuesday’s, how do you get that level of consistency in to every single game?
OGS: The consistency comes from the mindset. We know we’ve got talented players but we need to respect the basics of football. This isn’t just what we need, but it’s part of it, we need to outrun and outfight teams. If these players do that, which we’ve done the last two times and the stats have shown, then suddenly we create chances. We need to defend as a team. We can’t concede as many goals as we’ve done, because we’ll create chances and score. That’s a mindset that we need to have in every single game. We’ve got different ways of playing.
And as for preparation, after lockdown and with covid, we’ve stayed at home, we’ve had different routines coming in to games. I’ve got to look at how the players prepare because it’s been noticeable how well we’ve done away from home.