Every word from Ole's press conference
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced the media on Friday afternoon ahead of the 185th Manchester derby.
The Reds make the journey across town to the Etihad Stadium for a top-of-the-table clash against Premier League leaders Manchester City this weekend.
Ole’s men are enjoying a 21-match unbeaten run away from home and face Pep Guardiola’s men who have won all of their last 21 games in all competitions.
In other words, there's plenty of anticipation ahead of this particular derby, and below is what the boss had to say in the first half of his pre-match press conference…
City v United: Solskjaer’s press conference
Watch the manager’s press conference for his views on De Gea, Man City, transfer competition and our recent form…
Given how Manchester City are playing, especially after you played them in December, were you to finish second behind them, have you given that any though as to how much of an achievement that would be, given the context of their season?
"Our focus is just on this one game and not where we are going to end up. We just have to be the best possible Man United and end up trying to improve on last season, of course. That means moving up the table, getting more points, hopefully challenge or get to a final and get a trophy. What other teams do, we can’t control. We just have to keep at it ourselves, challenge ourselves and, of course, at the moment they’re ahead of us by a fair distance. Sunday’s a good chance to test ourselves against a good team."
David De Gea just posted on social media that he’s become a dad. I’m sure you’ll congratulate him on that. You always stress that players are also human beings, so what’s your philosophy and how long will he be allowed to be away from Manchester United?
"It’s a fantastic day for David, of course. When you become a dad, that’s probably the best possible feeling you can have and the ones lucky enough to have had that feeling know exactly what David’s going through now. I’ll give him the time he needs before he comes back. He has to go home and in the old world, that’s a day and you come back and you’re ready again, but with the pandemic and the quarantines, of course, it’s a different world. Still, when David wanted to be there to support his girlfriend, of course, it’s not even a discussion to make. Dean [Henderson] came in and played well and he’s ready. I’ll give David the time he needs, of course."
It’s not too long ago you and Man City were side by side in the table but what do you think is the biggest difference between the two clubs at the moment? And why is the gap there, is it because of quality, time, tactics, or what do you believe?
"I don’t worry. I can only control what’s happening here at Man United. There are so many differences between the clubs. If it’s the clubs you talk about I can sit here and talk about a lot. At the moment, they’re the only team ahead of us so we want to claw back point one them and get closer to them. They’ve gone through a fantastic spell at the moment. Great form, 21 wins. We’ve have 21 away games in the league unbeaten so one record is going to be broken. Let’s see which one it is."
Can you just explain why you think the team is playing way below the standards they set earlier in the season? It seems to be quite a few games now that you’ve imposed yourself on the opposition and you look a bit, maybe lethargic’s not the right word but maybe a little bit tired?
"You know when you get the results that you get, sometimes you seem and tend to forget about the performances on the back of the game. The West Brom game wasn’t the best quality but we felt there was improvements to be made on that one. The Palace game, of course. If you compare that one to last year’s game against Palace, it’s not very dissimilar but we had two or three fantastic moments with Marcus [Rashford] and Anthony [Martial], the two goals that they scored in that game. That was the spark, really, really top-class football. Still, in the Premier League, when the opposition don’t make mistakes, like Palace never did, you have to earn the right with the quality. We just lacked a little bit of that in the last few games. Still, we’ve gone 10 games unbeaten. Three weeks ago, four weeks ago, we couldn’t defend and did really well attacking-wise, that was the narrative anyway. Now the narrative is that we can’t score a goal. It’s a week without us scoring goals, it’s not long ago since we played some fantastic football against [Real] Sociedad, good goals against Newcastle, Southampton. It’s sometimes margins, you know, in football. One little step back now, one day extra recovery before the derby and hopefully we can get that spark back."
On those margins, it’s often sort of the qualities that the players possess, and the investor call last night revealed the club’s finances. When you look at Manchester City, they’ve got a different model. How do you view competing with Manchester City in the transfer market? There are a few players they’ve got that United have looked at, there are a few players that you’ve got that City have looked at. How do you view that completion between the two clubs?
"I only focus on what we do. We have our model and we as a club believe in a certain way to do it, in a certain player to come here and make us better, a certain person. I don’t think it’s my place to comment on any other clubs and compare us with others. Every club do their own business their own way and, at the moment, they’re in great form, doing really well but my focus and our focus is what we can control and that is ourselves."
Will Martial, [Paul] Pogba and [Victor] Lindelof be available on Sunday? Secondly, I cannot keep up with our own regulations, never mind Spain. Will David be available for the remaining five matches of March, or is it going to be Dean now for those fixtures?
"As soon as David travels back, we just have to follow the rules, the Government rules. Yeah, I expect him to be available very soon, not too far. Making up stories that’s been in the press this morning is not fair on our fans, it’s not fair on David. We allowed him to go back of course as he wanted to be there with his girlfriend. We want our players back as soon as possible but there’s a human being in there that we have to look after. He was there for his fantastic day for him, his girlfriend and his family. So, I don’t know when he will be back. It won’t be long before he comes. It was easy when I travelled back form the Euros, Noah was born on a Friday and I played against Spain on the Tuesday, travelling back on a Sunday, no quarantine, nothing. The world’s a different place but still this is the biggest occasion in any parents life, so of course we allowed him to go. Dean did well against Palace and I’m sure he’s looking forward to this City game. He’s had the experience already this season in the Carabao Cup. That will stand him in good stead."
You had a really good season last season against the well-established teams, but it’s not been like that this time around. What do you put that down to?
"Good question. Of course, we’ve looked at it. In a strange sort of way, you might not agree with it, but we’ve been more positive. We’ve been going with a high press in more or less every game, on the front foot, trying to pin the teams back, especially when they have the ball. Last year, maybe we relied more on counter-attacks, drop deep, defended really well, hung on. As a coach and manager, that’s the worst feeling ever, when you’re defending in and around your box because any little quality from your opponent and you’ve conceded. We’ve tried to go more positive. I've got to say, we’ve not been clinical or ruthless enough with our chances that we’ve had because we’ve had chances in these games. They’ve been tight games, and it’s another test for us now, another opportunity to put that right."
Ed Woodward has said that there’s clear signs of progress on the pitch. Is that happening as quickly as you would like it to be?
"Of course, you want to win every game of football, you do. But if we compare to last season, we’re quite a bit higher in the league compared to the same stage. We’re still through in Europe and the FA Cup. It’s probably the league that you think, 'yeah, that’s where we’ve shown the progress'. Hopefully, we can prove in the Europa League and the FA Cup that we have taken another further step. This team, the ambitions are there, of course. We have more experience to be in this position, compared to last season. We’re gelling more as a team, they’re fitter but at the moment, we look short term and that’s Sunday, to get back to creating chances, taking them and scoring goals again."
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For quite a while you were in the title race but now that doesn’t seem to be the case. Are you worried about missing out on a top-four place, I know you’re second, but the other teams are doing well behind you. Do you accept that there’s a battle for a top four place?
"There are still 11 games to go in the Premier League. I have always said, let’s get to at least March and April before we talk about a title race. You don’t talk about title races after 18-19 games. We have given ourselves a very good chance of improving on last season by the position we’re in. I’d rather be in the position we’re in now, compared to the situation we were in last season. But of course, in the Premier League, there are lots of quality teams. What we can control is ourselves and if we do our jobs and get as many points as I think we can do, I’m sure we’ll be up there."
What’s happened to your players to cause a dip in form? Is it mental, is it physical? How do you get back to where you were? Does that come form you? Them?
"It comes from everyone. We had a week without scoring a goal. It’s not like we’ve gone six weeks with bad form. It’s not long ago we beat Southampton 9-0 and beat [Real] Sociedad 4-0, a [Real] Sociedad team that should have won against Real Madrid at the weekend, was it this weekend? It’s also about the opposition we’re playing, the amount of games can have an effect, but for me I’m not buying into the narrative that we’ve sort of have had a dip in form. Yeah, we haven’t had that bit of margins with us to score the first goals in the games. Three 0-0s is not really us or what we set out to do. But we’ve defended well and just lacked that little spark to create enough chances to score. But I don’t buy the 'out of form' one."