How does Solskjaer reflect on 2020?
It's been one of the strangest years in history, but from a football perspective Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feels his Manchester United players have made excellent strides forward in the last 12 months.
During his pre-match interview, ahead of our Premier League clash against Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Stewart Gardner, the boss looked back on the progress the team has made, with a Champions League place gained last term, as well as three semi-finals reached during the 2019/20 campaign and another secured for the start of 2021.
He also looked ahead to the meeting with Wolves and, with four consecutive home matches to come, he explained his hopes that the Reds can really build on our last match at Old Trafford, the 6-2 win over Leeds...
In a way has this year also made everyone appreciate the difference that fans make?
“We certainly know how much they mean to us at Old Trafford. I think we can see that with the results – it swings more to away wins than home wins and that [no fans] is a massive factor. Being at home and having your own fans who know what we’re trying to do and them giving the players support and encouragement, that’s been one of the biggest things. All my team-mates and even players coming from abroad would always talk about how loyal all our fans have always been. So we can’t wait to get them back and we’ll do what we can to get points before they’re in.”
How do you look back on the progress we’ve made in 2020 and can you see the platform is there to go on further in 2021?
“Yes the foundation is there. I think we’ve used the year well. I think we’ve learned and we’ve improved and definitely we want to take the next step. We have a semi-final coming up in less than two weeks and there is lots to play for. The league is so tight and every game is like a cup final.”
After such success on the road, we now have four successive home games. Is it good to be back at Old Trafford for a while?
“Yes of course. I think the last game we played at Old Trafford was a very positive one. We have to build on that performance and the way we attacked and the way we went about the game. We’ve been doing well away from home, but now there’s no travel and more time to recover between the games and it’s fresh this morning [Monday] so we should be ready.”
This is the last game of 2020 which is not a year many people will want to remember for many reasons. From a manager’s point of view, how challenging has this extraordinary year been?
“It’s been different and difficult, but then again that’s life for everyone now. We’ve been able to work and meet each other and play football, yes under different circumstances and in different environments, but we’ve been able to do what we love the most. We’ve been quite lucky in that respect - we’ve seen people all time. We’ve tried to make the most of it, I think the players have done really well and been really focused and professional. It's maybe brought everyone down to the basics again for a while – washing their own clothes, no dressing rooms, no lunch, bring a packed lunch, and in one way I think that has challenged every player to look at themselves and say ‘do I do the right things?’ I think our group is getting to a good level of consistency in their good habits.”
How’s the squad looking ahead of the Wolves game, particularly Aaron and Victor?
“Victor didn’t train [on Monday] so we’ll give him 24 hours, he’s still getting treatment. Aaron trained with the boys. We didn’t do a lot because there was snow and it was just about preparation training anyway. If there’s no reaction he should be available.”
Wolves will be buoyed by that late equaliser away to Spurs…
“Yes and, as I said after Everton, every time you win a game or you have a good performance or you finish a game strongly like they did, it gives you a mental boost which helps the physical energy you need for a game. So we know they’ll be up for it. They played really well against Tottenham. They’ve changed the way they play slightly and have different types of players in the team which we’ll have to look after because they’ve got some very, very talented footballers in their team.”
There seemed to be a spell where we were playing them all the time – I think it was six times in about 10/11 months and there was hardly anything in those games…
“They’re a good side. Nuno [Espirito Santo] has set his team up really well. The recruitment has been really good and they’ve really built stone by stone. I think they’ve earned the right to be up there. We’ve had some tight games as you said and hopefully we can build on our performances last time. We beat them in the cup in February in the replay, but then again every game lives its own life. We have to start strong and hopefully we can build from that.”
You’ve got plenty of fresh options which is good news…
“Definitely. We’ve gotten used to it and I think the players are getting more and more robust and physically ready for games, with only two days rest in between. Of course we’ve got about 30 hours more than Wolverhampton to recover so we have a slight advantage in that respect, and hopefully we can make use of those extra calories of energy we’ve got.”
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We played them on 1 February, which was Bruno’s debut, and since then we’ve only lost three out of 28 Premier League which is literally as good as anyone…
“Yeah, as we started off 2020 I think we’ve built more momentum, belief and trust, and the performances have developed and improved. Then again, you’re never better than your last game of football. Every football game becomes history very quickly and you’ve got to focus on the next one. So this one is a big one for us because the league is so tight.”
Finally, the likes of Harry [Maguire], Bruno [Fernandes] and Marcus [Rashford] play most games, but even at some point do you have to give them a rest?
“Of course they have to be rested at certain points but then again we need points and we need to play strong teams and build on things. Even playing through when you’re a bit tired does develop you and improve you. If you see the best teams then they don’t rotate that much, the best players don’t rotate that much. But the Premier League is a different animal to other leagues and we do have a demanding style of play as well. It’s fast, attacking football – we want them to go quickly. It’s not walking tempo football that we demand. And if it’s 60 minutes full tilt then another one can do 30 because we have a big and strong bench as well.”