Ole: The business end of the season starts now

Tuesday 12 January 2021 09:00

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows a big week lies ahead for his Manchester United players and has urged his team to kick on, believing this to be the time when the business end of the campaign really begins.

The Reds have the chance to go top of the table with a draw or a win over Burnley at Turf Moor on Tuesday night, while a visit to Anfield looms large next Sunday.

In an interview with club media's Stewart Gardner, Ole reflected on the progress his side have made in the last year, urged caution but positivity around our current league position, and also discussed a new contract and loan deal for one of our young goalkeepers...

Ole, firstly we wanted to ask you about young goalkeeper Nathan Bishop, who has signed a new deal with the club…
“Yes, Nathan came in last season. Richard [Hartis, goalkeeping coach] knew of him before from the national teams and he’s come in and done really well. He’s impressed and improved, and he’s got a great attitude. He’s working to get better, he’s young and I think he deserves his new contract and we’re looking at the next step for him to maybe go out on loan. He’s had a great impact in the training group, all the boys really like to have him in training because he’s a keeper that throws his body on the line every time and he wants to keep that ball out of the net. He’s a good personality and someone we rate in the group.”

Quite a number of the young lads have gone out on loan and Ethan Laird played against Burnley [for MK Dons] at the weekend. It can be ups and downs on loan for players, but overall do you feel that is the next step for players like Nathan?
“Yes, I think Nathan’s next step should be a loan deal. He could be ready for the Championship or League One for sure. Ethan coming on against Burnley will have been a good test for him. The young boys need a step up from the U23s, because sometime that level doesn’t prepare you for a man’s game.”

Ole: Why Burnley is a unique challenge Video

Ole: Why Burnley is a unique challenge

Enjoy our exclusive matchday interview with the manager, ahead of tonight's massive game...

As for the next game, fans will have been anxious when they saw Eric Bailly go off against Watford at the weekend, but it sounds like he is alright?
“Yeah. He’s been on the grass, he didn’t do everything [yesterday] but he’s done some light training and luckily there was no concussion as we said. It was more of a real bad knock with Dean’s [Henderson] knee hitting him, so positive news.”

The squad seems to be looking good overall, as you mentioned that the three players who were missing the other day – Pogba, Lindelof and Shaw – sound like they're on their way back too?
“Yes, Luke and Victor both trained fully and Paul as well was out there. He didn’t do everything, but he is more or less also ready. So a good clean bill of health.”

I’m sure Edinson Cavani didn’t want a three-game ban, but he’s had a break and he must be a very handy man to have coming back at a very busy time?
“He’ll be very important for us and instrumental with his experience and his goals and his threat in the box. For us, we almost look at this Burnley game now as the start of the season. Everyone is more or less fit, we’ve built our way up to good fitness, bounced back after the disappointment of last week’s semi-final and beat Watford with players who haven’t played for a while. Now, everyone is mentally and physically ready for the rest of the season.”

That’s a great effort to have basically everyone fit when you consider we’ve had matches every three or four days. Is that to do with the staff or the players themselves?
“I think it’s a good mix between a few factors. The staff have done a great job – both the technical staff and also the medical and fitness staff. They work on the players every day and the players are looking after themselves, which I think is a must. I’m very pleased with the way they’ve handled this situation, because it’s a difficult situation, especially mentally, being in lockdown for so long. That also might help with the rest and recovery, in that they don’t have too much to do outside of football.”

The Premier League provides many challenges, but Burnley away on a cold, Tuesday night, probably a windy night – how unique a challenge is that at Turf Moor?
“It’s a great challenge and it’s what the Premier League is about if you want to be successful. You need to be mentally ready and earn the right to play because they’re one of the better organised teams in the league. They’ve got some strengths that not many other teams and clubs have, so in their own way these games have a massive impact on the morale and the spirit in our team, because if you win games like this it gives you a very, very strong basis later on.”

I know they’re about more than set pieces, but is the way that we handle set plays going to be really important on Tuesday night?
“Well, you know there’s Barnes or Wood or Rodriguez with the quality of delivery from Westwood, McNeil and Robbie Brady, who we know about, and also Gudmundsson. We know about their deliveries and also crosses in open play – the full-backs bomb on and put crosses in. They have physically very strong and clever strikers and there are not many teams that have had a striker partnership as long as they have because they know each other inside out – I’m sure they even know what they each eat for breakfast, their centre-forwards! [Smiles] It’s a challenge we just have to embrace and be ready for.”

United Daily: Boss and De Gea on Burnley Video

United Daily: Boss and De Gea on Burnley

We speak to Ole and David about Tuesday's game, and also hear from Nathan Bishop plus MU Women winger Leah Galton...

This is the 17th game of a 38-game season so clearly it’s not the be-all and end-all, but can you understand why fans are excited about the prospect of being top of the pile?
“The season for the fans is a different season compared to the players. I’ve been a player myself, I’ve been a fan myself, now I’m a manager and it’s different mindsets for all of them. Fans, yes you’re allowed to be excited, but I can’t remember one league table from a January that I was part of as a player. I cannot tell you where we were on 1 January in 2002 or 1998 or whenever, so it’s irrelevant really. We just have to focus on developing the team and the way we play and the mentality, and be ready for each game.”

On development, after 17 games last season we were sixth on 25 points. We might end up on 36 points after 17 games this time – does that show the development?
“I feel the team is developing all the time. We’re better and stronger mentally, we know more about ourselves, the team is gelling better and getting over the line in tighter games, we’re winning tighter games. That’s been a big thing for us – those extra points have come from wins like Southampton away, Brighton away, Wolves at home – when you score the winner in injury time. Those were all very important points [to pick up], so we are improving and developing, yes.”

For people who haven’t been involved at the top of the table, can it give some confidence to players to be top if they haven’t been involved in situations like this before?
“It’s the best place to be – up there, in and amongst it. I’ve been right at the bottom as well as in the middle with Cardiff and there is no better place to be than being up there and playing with confidence.”