One of your predecessors, David Moyes, said United were underdogs going in to this game. Louis [van Gaal] talked about Mike the chef and his thoughts on it. Jose said, because he wasn’t from the city he wasn’t a part of the rivalry. How do you go about it and did you look at this game when you were offered the job?
OGS: Of course you do. I’ve played a few of these myself so I know the magnitude of it for the fans and for everyone that works here. There have been many comments saying this is the big one. We’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s our job to be focussing and channelling all that energy in to performance mode when we start the game on Sunday. It’s not about emotions. I understand that emotion can be brought in to it. But we have to stay focused and controlled, but have some fight in us as well.
Does it hurt to watch Liverpool fighting for the title with Manchester City while United are fighting for fourth?
OGS: I’ve not really focused on the teams and what they’re doing. I’m focusing on us and what we have to do to get to where we want to be. It’s a three-horse race for the top and a three-horse race for fourth and that’s more my focus, and now my focus is of course this game.
So you’d like Spurs to win the title?
OGS: I don’t really get myself involved with that. But maybe.
The fans had pretty much no expectations going in to the last game against Liverpool. How proud are you that you’ve changed that perception, because they have big expectations going in to this one?
OGS: It’s not about pride, it’s about the fact we’ve taken a few steps in the right direction in that process of becoming what we want to become. A team that challenges higher up the league. It’s not about pride, it’s onto the next one. I never look back, I want to see forward.
The fans this week have been asking about the fitness of Jesse and Anthony. How are they and the rest of the squad?
OGS: We’re looking OK. I hope Jesse will be okay – more hope than think. Anthony will be OK. We’ve got two more days so they’ve got to get through these sessions. They’ve not been a part of it yet but they’ve been doing some recovery work. Anthony’s was a different muscle. So we think he might be ready and hope that Jesse will.
How important are those two the way you play?
OGS: Every single player has their attributes and I think we showed against Chelsea that we can manage without them. We have got options, it is a big squad with good players and everyone is eager to play this game, and some of them haven’t played so much. If they get a chance in this game then it’s a chance to step forward. If they [Martial and Lingard] don’t make it, then it might be the same team that played against Chelsea. Who knows?
How do you beat Liverpool?
OGS: I wouldn’t tell you! We have to perform better than we did against PSG. That’s our focus. It’s a big game, a big team. Suddenly we are not underdogs any more, suddenly people praise us, they think now is the time to play them. We’ve got to learn from that experience against PSG because we didn’t perform to the level that we wanted to, even though they should’ve had 10 men and we should’ve had 11 on the pitch when it was quite even. We’ve just got to make sure we stay focused for the whole game. All these games are decided on little margins. That one centimetre that Mbappe was in front of Eric and he scored, instead of Eric clearing it. That is the deciding factor in these big games.
Even though you obviously didn’t want to lose it, that PSG game has given a harsh lesson. Is that one to learn from? Inspire you?
OGS: Yes, definitely. We were confident going into it, humble to know PSG are a fantastic team. But it hurt and how the players responded was fantastic. They were disappointed in our performance and maybe it’s natural. Jesse, Marcus, Luke hadn’t played a big Champions League game for Manchester United at Old Trafford before, that’s something I have to learn from and they have to learn from as well.
When you last played Liverpool, Pogba was an unused substitute…
OGS: He’ll play now!
You watched a lot of United before you took over. What did you think of Paul before you took over, in terms of his performances, and did you think you needed to make him a focal point of this team?
OGS: I was asked so many times if you build your team around Paul Pogba. I said a couple of years back, when you don’t think you’re going to get this job, but he’s a top, top player I’ve always liked ever since I saw him as a kid. He’s a World Cup winner, a leader in dressing-room, he wants the ball all the time. My idea was to get him playing to the best of his abilities as an attacking midfielder. Paris Saint-Germain man marked him and other teams will. If Liverpool do he will have experienced that. PSG stopped Paul and created space for others. We need to be ready for that.
Is there another midfielder in the world with his skill set?
OGS: There are different types of midfielders but in his mould I don’t think there’s no one near. With his physical presence, he can score goals, great close technique, the diving header against Chelsea, fantastic. He did the same against Bournemouth when he ran from the halfway line to get in the box. He can also spray passes when he’s more sitting in midfield. I don’t think that’s his best position but he can do that as well.
All great teams have special players that you can build around. Can you see Marcus and Paul being players you can build a great United team going forward around?
OGS: They’re young enough to stay here for many years. But you’ve got Matic and Herrera who make Paul’s job what it is. You’ve got to compliment each other. You can’t put 11 Ronaldos or 11 Messis on the pitch and think you’re going to win a game. It’s all about complimenting each other’s attributes and I think we’ve found a good balance in our midfield so far.
Is Herrera a real spirit of Manchester United at the moment?
OGS: You see the way Herrera covers every single blade of grass on the pitch, even though it’s not his job, he does it when it’s necessary. Against Chelsea for example, in the first minute he ended up almost left wing and winning the ball there. We’re sitting there wondering how’s he ended up there, we wanted to see that on the video! He has so much passion, energy and enthusiasm. He gives everyone around him that little extra spark. He’s a leader. I remember when he played against for Bilbao, the energy that he had. He’s gone through a good school of Bielsa. The rotation in his play as well. He can play sitting midfielder, he can run, so it’s about which one we decide for him this time.
Do you think Liverpool know they’re going to be in for an incredibly hard time on Sunday?
OGS: We know we’re in for a tough game because they’ve been fantastic this season. They’ll know that coming to Old Trafford should be a difficult one. I think they pay us respect and we’ll pay them our respect because it’s a team full of good players.
Emotionally it’ll be hard for them as well, knowing what’s on this game. It’s a major step for them for the title.
OGS. Yeh, for them it’s a big game. For us it’s a big game because we want to be amongst the top four and we’re playing Liverpool. We’re know how big that game is for United, how big it is for the staff here, for the supporters. So we’re just looking forward to another challenge for this team. We want to build this team to be worthy of Manchester United’s history and it’s another step if we can do that [beat Liverpool] at home. There’s been Tottenham away, Arsenal away, Chelsea away – it was fantastic to win those three games. Now we need to perform at home.
Before games like this, Sir Alex Ferguson would go for mind games to get a psychological edge. Is that something you buy in to as a manager?
OGS: Nah. I don’t think Jurgen Klopp will read what I say and I’m not going to read what he says. Further down the line, I would think, but it would be welcome to have the gaffer talk to the players, if he wanted to. We know how much it meant for him to overtake Liverpool. Our players know what it means for everyone at Man United.
No plans for Sir Alex to give that team talk?
OGS: No. [laughs]
Second part of the press conference
Is it important for the identity of this club that you take the initiative in these matches?
OGS: We always want to take the initiative. Then again, there are games where you’re not allowed to take the initiative. I thought we started off on the front foot against PSG but then they took the initiative. We’ll go in to this game wanting to dominate the game. We know their strengths, they’ll be waiting for our mistakes so they can counter attack. But if we drop back and stop that counter attack, then they can dominate us, so we don’t want to do that at Old Trafford. We’ve just got to take the lead.
Is your approach always going to be what you can do, positively first, and then what they will do second?
OGS: That’s always my first thought, to try and win the game. I’ve never gone in to a game trying not to lose a game. But then again, you play against 11 players, so if we can do to Liverpool what we’ve done to a few teams I’ll be very happy. If we have to play a different way then the game itself decides that, and the start of the game. The start is very important.
You will have grown up when Liverpool were the dominant force of English football. It’s been 29 year since they’ve won a title. Do you think they’re under incredible pressure this year to end that because they’re so close now?
OGS: There are loads of Liverpool fans back home and they’ve been like ‘this is our year’. Every year has been their year. It’s got to October and then it’s ‘ok, next year’. But now they are in the race, so of course it’s going to be an exciting finish to the league now they’re in it. But that’s none of our concern whatsoever. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.
Is it a surprise that a club of that stature has gone so long without the title?
OGS: It’s difficult to win the league here. It is. It’s probably the toughest league to win. There are only five or six teams that have won the Premier League. That Leicester did it was a miracle. Blackburn did it. And then there’s a few big clubs that have won it. They do feel that pressure, all the supporters, and players probably as well. But we’ve not won it for a few years so we want to get back to that. We have to make sure that we don’t end up being happy being amongst the top four. If you aim too low and reach your targets, that’s more dangerous than aiming too high and missing.
Are you expecting a call from Pep Guardiola asking a favour?
OGS: No. [laughs] We’re not thinking about doing anyone any favours. But I would think that the whole of Manchester will support us on Sunday, but we are just doing ourselves a favour.
Beating them is always a huge thing for the fans, but this year there’s almost a desperation to do it, not only for what it would mean for you but to stop them climbing back on their perch, if you like. Has that conveyed itself through to the players that there is a real feeling about this one, probably more than any other in recent years?
OGS: It’s more the staff at Carrington. They’re Man United through and through. They’ve been here for 30 years, so they’re chipping away. We’ve just got to focus on the emotion not taking over. We have to stop them? It’s not about that for us. For us we have to win this game, and you only win it by performing, you only perform by focussing on your own job.
Have you had to tell them to make a concerted effort to take the emotion out of this one?
OGS: No. Not yet. They will know the importance of both sides of controlling the emotions, but also you’re allowed to give 110%… even if I’ve never said 110% because I’m a mathematician. It’s never possible, more than 100% really. I’ll say 110% this time though.
There’s a cup final on Sunday but for Manchester United, does this feel like the real cup final?
OGS: Always it’s the first game you look to on the fixture list. At home to Liverpool. I actually came over and was in the studio with Gary and Jamie Carragher a few years back when David was unbelievable in goal. I think he made six or seven fantastic saves. Was it 3-0 in the end? We won anyway. It’s the one game for everyone in Manchester.
You mentioned Pogba before. It’s quite noticeable if you look back to September, October and November last year, Paul was everywhere all over social media with his new haircuts and everything, posting a lot on social media. That all seems to have stopped. 2019 he’s not had a different haircut like he was doing before. He’s not active on social media in the way he was previously. Have you had a hand in that or is that Paul’s own realisation that maybe his focus at that point perhaps where it should be?
OGS: Paul has always been larger than live. He’s a great character. He has a fantastic family. But you don’t do yourself any favours when, you don’t give anyone an excuse really, so you don’t go to the Brit Awards this week, because we know leading up to the other game against Liverpool that the players weren’t focussed. We know they’re focussed. We know they’re doing their best. But he does help himself by toning it down a bit. That’s just Paul being Paul. Knowing him, he wants to win, he wants to be the best. You’d be surprised by the number of minutes he’s played. He’s probably player, bar David and Nemanja, the most minutes for us in the league. There was a perception that Jose left him out all the time. There was a couple of games. Maybe he’s not got the energy to do it, who knows?
How do you channel that? Presumably you want that personality? You want his charisma, otherwise he wouldn’t be the player or leader that he is if he was an introverted character. How have you channelled the extrovert nature and got it out there on to the pitch, rather than in other areas?
OGS: He is a leader in training, in the dressing room. Players are allowed to be themselves. That’s my job to allow them to be themselves. He spends a lot of energy being a leader, on and off the pitch. If you want the nice car and the nice hair cut… I’ve got this grey hair, I can’t do anything about this. But you’re allowed to have different haircuts, that’s not a problem, as long as you don’t think too much about that. But I’ve never thought that was a problem with Paul. When he was 16 he wanted to feel good. If you feel good, you will play well.
So is that something he’s done himself then? Reining it back in his social media?
OGS: Yeh. I’ve not said anything to him about that. I’ve talked to the whole team about expectations, the standards we have, what I expect from them, and I’m a bit older than them so I don’t understand all this social media, even though I posted a picture of Rashy’s shirt when he scored last time against Liverpool at Old Trafford. That was maybe one of my five or six tweets.