Well played on the comeback in the week, how’s your team and squad looking injury-wise since then?
OGS: It was a great effort and a great atmosphere towards the end, of course, one of the the great Champions League nights at Old Trafford. Great comeback, which will bring some knocks and bruises which normally you would expect. It’s still just Friday, game’s on Sunday. We will give everyone time. We might have the whole squad back fit and we may be two or three players down. Today, we weren’t everyone. But let’s see Sunday.
Liverpool are in tremendous form at the moment. Comparing to the second half in the week, how many levels do you need to go up defensively to match Liverpool, and offensively, will that sort of be enough?
OGS: You know, a performance needs to consist of 90 plus minutes of attacking and defending. And definitely when you play against a team at the level of Liverpool. At the moment, they’re on a great run of form and there’s some individual skills that you can almost not defend against. As a team, we have to be compact, aggressive, we have to go out there and get every single drop of nouse, knowledge, strong mindset, physical energy. It’s going to take everything to get a result against the best teams in Europe and the world and Liverpool are one of them at the moment. They’re one of the teams that we’re chasing and we’re trying to chase. What they’ve done in the last four years is something that we’re striving towards, and of course to go past them. We ended ahead of them last season, they had a large spell of injuries, so now they’re back to their best.
Jurgen Klopp has been talking this morning about Salah and Ronaldo, comparing them, saying that Salah’s got the better left foot and Ronaldo’s got the better right foot but they’re both world class. There’s lot of talk about Salah is the best player in the world on current form, would you subscribe to that? Or do you feel Ronaldo still has the edge?
OGS: I’ll always back Cristiano in any competition. He’s unique. His goalscoring record has been fantastic and he just keeps on scoring. That being said, Salah, at the moment, he’s on fire. You see some of the goals he’s scored lately. We know we have to be at our best to defend against him. You know, players like this don’t come around very often and we have to enjoy them from afar, not on Sunday, that’s too close for me. We’ve got to do a good job, not just against him. I’m a big admirer of the front line they’ve had for many, many years now with Mane and [Roberto] Firmino. Maybe Jota will play, who knows? There are players that we have to focus on, we have to be nailed on for 95 minutes to keep a clean sheet.
Going back to injuries. There’s suggestions that Bruno Fernandes might carry a bit of a knock after the Atalanta game? Can you tell whether he’ll be fit? And what potential loss would it be if he cannot play?
OGS: You know, games like Wednesday will always bring knocks and bruises. And yes, we do have two or three carrying knocks from that game, but I’ll give everyone time. I hope I can pick from a fully fit squad. It might be that I’m without two or three. And yes, Bruno might be one of them and might be a doubt but he’s doing everything he can to be ready.
Fred’s been an another important player for you over the years and I know he came off with an injury the other night but why is it that, in certain games like against PSG, Manchester City, or Liverpool to a lesser extent, that he can be so important to the team? Is it the balance he provides? He seems to play well and make a difference against Atalanta.
OGS: Fred is a very good player, he’s a regular for Brazil, which in itself is a mark of quality. He’s got an exceptional personality and attitude to football, such a big smile. And at the present moment, I can’t say if he’ll be fit or not but he’ll give everything he can to be there for us. He’s sharp, he’s nimble, he gets to players, he tackles, he’s never afraid. So, the development he’s made in almost the three years I’ve been here is great to watch. It showed, for me, when he got injured at the end of last season. It was supposed to be a six-to-eight-week injury and he was back the day before the Europa League final. He was fit, fully joined the training session and we had to strap him up for the game but if I’d have known before, maybe I would have played him. He would have put his hand up and sacrificed himself for the team, that’s for sure.
There can’t be anybody who hasn’t had an opinion about you for months now. Steve Bruce put a very interesting interview out the other day after he left Newcastle, talking about the pressure and the criticism. How do you deal with that as a human being?
OGS: I think we all have our own ways of dealing with criticism. But we’re in a high-profiled position. You’re always going to get good and bad comments. You cannot let yourself be too affected. I think it may, as Steve alluded to as well, it might be affecting others around you more than yourself, which then probably in the end filters through to you. We know we are high-profiled. Performances, sometimes, are not really good or really bad but the result decides the narrative of what people like to think about you. I enjoy managing, I enjoy this life. I don’t think anyone of us would be in this occupation if we didn’t believe in ourselves, have a strong mindset but also love what we’re doing.
You’ve been involved in numerous late comeback results as a United player and now as a United manager. Can you try and quantify the effect that can have for the belief of the team? Can you even put it in to words?
OGS: It’s something we have done plenty of times at the club. It’s in our DNA, it’s never give in, Sir Alex’s documentary. That’s what our fans expect from us, to give everything we have, give your best all the time. If we do that with the quality that the players have here, you can win games. You can even sometimes even lose games but you come out of it having given everything and we know that ‘yeh, that’s a team out there’. I saw a team in the first half as well giving everything for each other but we need half-time against Atalanta to maybe push that belief a little bit more. We kept on believing in what we’re doing. Hopefully, it’s the end of a bad period for us, a bad spell. Teams always go through bad spells and good teams come together and if that was start of something big, that’s what we hope. The focus and determination has been really, really good since the bad performance we had against Leicester.
Just going back to last season and the matches against the so-called big six, there was only two victories in those games, five draws and three of them goalless draws. I was just wondering what you learned from those matches and how you look approach these types of games now? You’ve got three coming up in a short period of time.
OGS: What’s the big six? That’s just a made-up band of brothers, if you like. Every game in this league is so important and so difficult. We have absolutely no right to go on to the pitch in the Premier League thinking we can give less than our best to win a game. We have not won the league in the last three or four years. Maybe you can understand sometimes Liverpool and City as they’ve been so dominant the last few years to walk onto the pitch and think quality will be enough. We have a team of players that we know we have to keep on developing, keep on improving. But back to the games you’re talking about, we had a lot of clean sheets and there’s been a lot of talk for the lack of clean sheets recently. And that’s a big thing for us, that we’re solid and difficult to play against.
Despite the lack of clean sheets but David is having a very good season in goal. Do you think we are we seeing the best of him now? And where does he rank among the best goalkeepers in the world at moment?
OGS: David is up there for sure. We’ll play against one of the top ones on Sunday, Alisson is one of the top ones, to be fair. But I’ve seen the mindset, how focused and determined David has been since he came back early in the summer. He’s got his tail up again. He’s a joy to work with. You know, keepers like that sometimes dig up big saves to win games and he has done. He did against Villarreal, he did against Atalanta and, for all the goals we score, he has played really, really well.
Is it just a fact that this game, at home to Liverpool, it means a bit more if you win it and it means a lot more if you lose it, for the fans particularly?
OGS: It’s a fact, the history between the clubs, the rivalry and all the trophies that these two teams have won, and a local rivalry. I always say, every time you’re a United player, when you’re given the privilege, honour and responsibility to wear the shirt and step on to that pitch at Old Trafford against Liverpool, you give everything you have. We know that these games don’t need any bigging up. It’s a massive game.
Would you agree that, if you had a first half like you did on Wednesday, that there won’t be any coming back against this Liverpool team as it has such a a high standard?
OGS: You can’t give them chances. We gave Atalanta two and they scored two. If we give Liverpool two, they’ll score two. In football, you know, teams are going to create chances. That’s just the nature of the game. I do not agree with everyone when you say we were really, really bad and open against Atalanta, they were realty clinical. But so is Liverpool, they will be. So we cannot give them an inch, any centimetre, anything in our box, that’s for sure.
With a win against Liverpool on Sunday, you will only be one point behind them while a loss could potentially send you seven points behind Liverpool and eight behind Chelsea. With those numbers in mind, is this a ‘do-or-die’ game for Man United in terms of being title contenders?
OGS: Every time you play for Man United, you play for three points. Of course, to be seven points behind would be a big distance, one point between is close but it’s still so early in the season. Every game matters just as much. Every team is going to go through a bad spell and this early you can’t talk about title contending or anything. We are chasing them. Liverpool are one of the teams we are trying to catch up on. The last four years we’ve had too many points to catch up on them. Even though last season we were ahead of them because they had lots of bad luck with injuries. We still know we have to improve to get to their level where they’ve been over the last four years.
Just about your defence, it’s not been amazing. How would you respond to the idea that if you sorted out the defence, with the attackers you have, and the way you’re scoring late goals and just the sheer quality, that United could be a frightening proposition for opposition sides?
OGS: We know that we were too open against Leicester. We were too easy to cut through. The first half an hour was alright but then the last 60 were very below par. We have conceded some bad counter attack chances and goals. We’ve conceded some set play goals. That’s something we work on. We have to put it right. The funny thing is this season sometimes we’ve had more players behind the ball that what we did last season, but we’ve been easier to play through. To be successful in any game, whether it’s Premier League or Champions League, you cannot concede too many chances because eventually they’ll score. I think it’s about being on the front foot, being aggressive, winning your tackles. We showed a lot of that character and belief on Wednesday night.
We saw on Wednesday night when Atalanta missed that last chance, Paul Pogba did a big fist pump. He was clearly relieved. He’s come out the last few days about how happy he is and how much fun he’s having playing football. Are you confident he’s close to signing a new deal?
OGS: [Laughs] Talks between the club and Paul, I can’t comment, but if Paul’s happy here that’s great because we get the best football from Paul. For every single player here, we need them to be giving everything they have and you see the reaction from everyone after the game. Paul’s fist pump, as you say, everyone’s giving what they can for the team and Paul is one of them. I have to praise him for that.
You mention the lack of cleansheets. No one questions the talent in the team. There have been moments of brief lapses, nodding off almost. Is the problem become a mental one rather than anything else?
OGS: We’re competing at such a high level, Champions League, Premier League, that if you switch off for a split second you will be punished. That’s the difference between at this level and playing at the level below. In Sir Alex’s team talks, he always had concentration. He said you have to concentrate. But 90 plus minutes three times a week, that’s the standard as football has come to now. We have conceded goals that we could have avoided, definitely. We’re working to improve and get better. The boys agree on what we need to do and they’re giving it their best. Sometimes, like Wednesday night, Atalanta had two chances and they scored two goals. Every time is going to create decent chances against you but if you gift them through a lack of concentration that’s not going to be good enough to be successul.
You spoke earlier about the rivalry between United and Liverpool, which you know full well about, that satisfaction Sir Alex took from knocking them off their perch. When you become a United manager, is that something you’ve got to accept, that rivalry. United fans sing about it every game, 20 times, how important is it as United manager to keep that advantage?
OGS: It’s a massive rivalry because of the history of the two clubs. The amount of trophies and titles these two clubs have won, the history between us, the two cities, the football clubs, it’s a rivalry you have to embrace. You have to hold your hands up and say they’re a very good club, a very good team, but you’ve got to make sure you’re better than them. The last four years they’ve been tremendous. We’re chasing them. Now we’ve taken steps, but the next step is to be above them again, like we were last season, but that’s history. Hopefully this season we can achieve something better.
When you look at Jadon, he’s been involved in pretty much every league game but has only had three starts. Now you’ve got Marcus Rashford back to add to your squad depth in those positions. Do we forget that this is Jadon’s first season of Premier League football. Is he taking the time to adapt to the league in the way sometimes foreign players do when they come over?
OGS: He’s English and he’s lived in Manchester before, but he’s not played in the Premier League until now. He’s got Champions League experience, he had great experience with Dortmund, but the Premier League is the best league in the world. He’s going to give us so much in the years to come, he’s humble, hardworking, and he wants to learn. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop and blossom, because he will. He’s had moments with us that the crowd are on the edge of their seats. Can he add the next bit? Yes, I’m sure he will do.
Klopp has said he’s envious of some of your options in attack, he mentions Jadon and Mason Greenwood. Would it be fair to say there’s been a period of inconsistency because you’re trying to gel your new options and expect this to settle down in the coming months?
OGS: I expect us to improve in the next couple of months, definitely. Cristiano has been here a month, Jadon’s been here for two, Marcus is just coming back, Edinson had a long run up to when he could join us. I expect us to improve, definitely. It is exciting for us to have these types of players to work with. Then it’s about finding the balance with how big we’re going to make the pitch, Edinson and Cristiano are two of the best box players in world football, then you’ve got exciting wingers, goalscorers. I’m sure we’ll improve. We’ve lost some points lately that we’re not happy with, but we’re in the situation we’re in and we have to take it from here and really get going. There’s no time to lose. Even though it’s a long season, the teams you’re competing with are not going to give you too many options to catch them.