Solskjaer explains our semi-final motivation

Thursday 29 April 2021 10:00

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says his Manchester United players are relishing the challenge posed by Roma in the Europa League semi-final, stating the Reds will channel previous last-four disappointments as extra motivation to go a step further this time round.

United have suffered a number of heartbreaking defeats at this stage of a number of competitions in the last year and last season's Europa League exit was particularly painful, after dominating against eventual winners Sevilla.

Roma stand in our way of reaching the final in Gdansk on 26 May, with the first leg taking place at Old Trafford on Thursday night, and Ole says we are ready for the test...

Firstly Ole, how’s the squad shaping up?
“There are so many games! They’re all fit and available, [we] didn’t lose anyone from the last game which was good. It was a hard-fought game of course against Leeds, high intensity. We’re ready and it’s good preparation for the rest of the season.”

Are Marcus Rashford and Eric Bailly both okay?
“Yep. Both of them are available. So that’s good.”

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We’re going to face some familiar players on Thursday night in Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who both won this competition with United four years ago. Will it be good to catch up with them?
“Yes. Hopefully they will enjoy coming back to Manchester. Unfortunately there are no fans at Old Trafford to greet them. We know about their qualities and we know about other players as well of course with good quality and some of them have played in the Premier League. They know us and in the last few weeks we’ve analysed Roma and got a clearer view on them.”

There aren’t that many English players who go to Serie A, but Chris has taken on that challenge. Do you admire what he’s done over there?
“Of course last season he did really well and when a club you go to on loan want to sign you that says everything about you as a player and as a person in terms of what you’ve done there. Unfortunately, this year he’s had a few injuries, but he’s back just in time for this one.”

This is our fifth semi-final in around 15 months which is a great run. Do you feel the lads are now truly ready to take that extra step?
“Well we’re coming into this final stretch of the season in good form. We’ve really built momentum and of course those setbacks and disappointments in the semis are more used as a motivation this time. We know how it feels to be so close and this time we’re going to give everything. I know that about these players anyway, they always give us absolutely everything they’ve got.”

You talk about using those defeats as motivation… I wondered if last season’s Europa League semi-final in particular would act as that as it seemed to me we played really well in that game and it was pretty painful to take…
“I thought the performance was excellent and we were unlucky not to score goals. Of course Roma as well went out against Sevilla so I think both teams feel the disappointment. When you lose to the winners then you’re close. When it’s the last game of the season like it was last season it’s going to stick in your mind of course. We’ve used it as a point of reference that if we go further we’ve improved.”

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For a centre-back, Chris Smalling scored some great goals for United! Watch his top five here...

The 7-1 win against Roma was your final season and what an amazing atmosphere and night that was. Do you have good memories of that?
“I remember the one away when Scholesy got sent off and we dug out a 2-1 decent away result because we scored. I remember the manager was very pleased with us. We stayed in Rome and went to see the Vatican after the game and he was in a very, very good mood because he felt confident in our ability to beat them. The 7-1 was one of the best nights you can experience. I came on for the last 20/25 minutes. Michael [Carrick] who’s with me here now scored some good goals that night.”

Does he ever mention those?
“No! [Laughs] You don’t know Michael well enough if you ask if he mentions his goals! He never does. We rarely look back, that’s the thing especially on good nights. I think most of the time we look back at the nights that slipped away and use them as motivation. But of course, they’re good memories.”

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How Micki fired us to Europa League glory

Henrikh Mkhitaryan earned a place in United history, by scoring six goals in our victorious Europa League campaign…

Finally, Ole it’s not been an easy run – with two La Liga clubs and you’ll have to beat two Serie A clubs to get to the final. But do you take confidence from the games so far?
“Of course. When we had [Real] Sociedad we thought that was a tough game because they were flying in the league. We did that really well away. When you get Milan, a club with history and tradition and they were flying in the league. We managed to go through there. Granada have done really well in the last few seasons and it’s the same again with Roma – what a club, with history and tradition and they had a fantastic start to the season. They’ve had some injury problems and it’s a big game for them as well and a big game for us. If you want to win this tournament you have to beat good teams.”