Ole on Liverpool, Bruno and battling racism

Sunday 02 May 2021 08:00

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feels his Manchester United side are benefitting from the excellent fitness work that's been done in the last few seasons.

Ole praised his coaching staff and players for the way in which the Reds have been able to turn tight games in our favour this term, ahead of another huge clash, against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

United are continuing the fight to secure a Champions League spot for next season and Ole's men will be further buoyed by Thursday's superb 6-2 win over Roma in the Europa League semi-final first leg.

The boss sat down with club media's Stewart Gardner ahead of the match against Jurgen Klopp's side and discussed his support for the current social media blackout, Bruno Fernandes's goals target and why the match against Liverpool will always be the big one for him...

Ole, the club has released figures about the abuse suffered by our players on social media over the last few years. Are you hoping this football-wide boycott helps this weekend?
“Oh yes, that’s why we’re doing it. It’s gradually become more and more vicious and vile, particularly in the last couple of years. It’s hard to sit here and talk about it when you experience it because, some of the players, what they’ve gone through is not nice. I know we’ve got a pandemic going on but to sit behind a keyboard and write these vicious messages... that’s not on. Hopefully this is now another step towards something better.”

You’d hope this weekend, of all the weekends, that the social media companies would take note because United v Liverpool would do such massive business, if you like, for them?
“Yes. Let’s just hope we can make a change and as you say it’s a big, big weekend in football. It’s probably the most historic game of all.”

Ole: It's the most historic game of all Video

Ole: It's the most historic game of all

The boss explains why United v Liverpool will always be the big one for him...

Just one word on the Roma win. There are lots of statistics on the game, but one impressive one was it’s the first time anyone has scored six in a major European semi-final since 1964. You must be pretty proud of that?
“Of course we are. We played a very, very good second half. I was thinking back to a quarter-final when Bayern Munich battered Barcelona eight-something [in 2020]. I’ll need to look back, but for us coming into half-time 2-1 down was a difficult position to be in at home. You’ve conceded two and you know they are buoyant and confident. We’d started well, played good football and scored a fantastic goal and then we found ourselves 2-1 down. But the response and experience in the players showed.”

Does the situation in the Roma tie have any impact on your team selection for Sunday?
“I don’t think you can take anything for granted in any game. We have to wait until Sunday morning to see how the players are. Thursday night was an intense game and we need to see who is really fresh and fit to play against Liverpool because you definitely don’t take anything for granted in the knockout phase, even when you’re four goals up in a semi-final. The performance was excellent but you can see they had two chances and scored two goals. If they get too many chances in Rome, we can’t put ourselves in that position. We’ll pick a strong team for that one and on Sunday morning we’ll have to decide on the Liverpool team because it was a hard game.”

I’m sure there are always knocks and bruises in games, but presumably it doesn’t look like there was anything serious from the game?
“No, it doesn’t look like we got any bad injuries. Obviously, the first morning [after] you’re tired. The second day you feel if there is any longer effects on your body – I needed a few days towards the end of my career to recover from games like that!”

I spoke to Bruno Fernandes after the Roma game and he said he wants to beat his Sporting Lisbon record of 32 goals in a season. He’s up to 26 – can he get there?
“I wouldn’t put it past him! I’m sure Bruno will say this too, but it’s not about individual accolades or awards or prizes, it’s about the team getting to a final and being successful together. That’s how we build this team and this club: by being a team.”

Is this game still the one for you?
“Yes, definitely. Of course it is. With the rivalry and what they’ve done the last few seasons, you look at it as one of the biggest challenges of the season because we know they’re a top team and they’ve got quality, and we’ve got to play a good game to get the three points we want.”

There were two contrasting games in the space of a week in January – a 0-0 draw at Anfield and an amazing game in the FA Cup. What are you expecting? I suppose they desperately need to win if they’re to have any hope of the top four…
“So do we! [Laughs] Every time we play against Liverpool we’re desperately need to win. There’s no doubt my players will be ready and we’ll give everything. It’s just a historic, fantastic game to play in. I’ve had some good memories and bad memories, and let’s make sure this will be a good memory.”

There is a big difference in the points tally this season. We were a long way behind them last season and that’s changed dramatically this year. I suppose that shows what can happen in a year…
“We’ve improved definitely. We’re winning tight games – we’ve won them more than last year and every game in the Premier League is tight. Say there are five even games and you just tip them and you get the momentum and win four of them and draw one instead of losing four of them and drawing one of them, they’re tight moments. We’ve said it all through the season – you have to earn the points every game. It’s a big, big difference between a team in momentum and swimming against the tide.”

Finally, on fitness, we looked very fit against Roma in the second half, the same against Leeds, who are considered one of the fittest team around, and loads of our goals came in the second half – is that now the end result of a particular strategy of yours?
“It’s not the end result, but it’s the result of hard work on the training ground and discipline. The coaches have been fantastic and fitness is such an important part of being a footballer. We know they’ve got talent, but the fitter they are the more you can do. And the stronger you feel in games, then a lot of games will be decided in the last 20 minutes or something and we’ve really shown this year what we’ve built over the last few seasons.”