Ole: We'll be fired up, not fatigued
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants his Manchester United players to play with freedom and express themselves when the Reds step out to face league leaders Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.
Ole's men head across town for the latest Manchester derby battle, with the Reds aiming to close the gap at the Premier League summit.
United have endured a frustrating last week of goalless draws, but the manager isn't worrying about that and, as he told club media's Stewart Gardner, he's keen to see his players hit the heights from previous weeks and hopefully get back to winning ways...
Firstly Ole, David posted on social media confirming he’s become a dad which is great news…
“Yep, you’ve got to grow up then as it’s a new responsibility! [Smiles] [I’m] Really happy for him, everything went fine and I’m really pleased. It’s a massive thing in the life of everyone who's lucky enough to be a dad or a mum.”
It’s great news but does it mean he will be out for a little while?
“Yes, David asked to go home and of course I let him do that. He’ll come back as soon as he finds he has been there long enough. He’ll have to do the few days of quarantining and he’ll be with us again soon.”
It’s a chance for Dean [Henderson] I’m assuming now with some really huge games coming up…
“That’s the beauty of having a good squad. When things crop up, if it’s injuries or other reasons you know it’s not as easy as before to go home and be with your family anymore. The beauty of having good players around is they’re ready to step in and Dean did really well against [Crystal] Palace and he’s done really well throughout the season.”
How is the squad looking ahead of the City game?
“We’re still hoping to get one or two back of course. We can’t promise any of them being available that weren’t available in the last game against Palace. So we’ll go with the same squad if not.”
It struck me that we’ve played in every single midweek since the start of the season in September because of the situation and due to us going deep into some competitions. I know you never use it as an excuse, but I wonder how much of a toll that takes, particularly at this incredibly important and busy time of the season?
“It’s a challenge for the team. The most successful Man United teams over the years always used to have this. Maybe once in a while we’d get a midweek off, but we haven’t and we haven’t had any easy cup draws either to rest players. The only way to improve, get better and get used to this is to go through it. The players are getting more and more robust, physically and mentally, and I’ve been impressed by them and they recover [from games] really well. Of course, once in a while you don’t really hit your best form, that’s natural and we understand that. Everyone goes onto the pitch to do their best and now it’s a derby and of course everyone is going to be fired up and any mental or physical fatigue is not going to come into play that’s for sure.”
The focus appears to be on us not scoring, but the other side of the coin is we’re not conceding. Does that part of our play please you at the moment?
“Of course. Since the Sheffield United defeat we’ve gone undefeated. We’ve had the big wins against Southampton and [Real] Sociedad and when we really hit form and create the moments we score goals. We do know we have the quality and at least we have the foundation of a very, very tight defence. That’s about not dropping deep and that’s what we’ve been working on all season, since last season as well, pressing high and being on the front foot and trying to keep as many teams away from our box as possible. That’s been working better and better, but then again we’d like to see us scoring more goals. It’s been a week, so three games without scoring… sometimes you don’t even play a game for a week so it’s not going to affect anyone’s confidence or belief in themselves. It’s just not worked but they’re going to be ready for it on Sunday for sure.”
It’s only one defeat in 21 league games which is a hell of a record, but is it just the number of draws which is slightly frustrating?
“You know there was a period when we won those games. That’s something we need to get back to and win those tight games. Two more extra points mean a lot when there are three points at stake for a win. We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to find the solution, it’s there in front of us. We know that we’ve done it so we just need to get back to believing in ourselves and to feel free and express yourself, take some risks, make good decisions and the goals will come.”
We’ve had some great performances and games against Manchester City – can that provide some confidence as well?
“Yeah. But of course it’s different now because there are no fans home or away. We don’t have to travel too far, but it’s a different type of derby when there are no fans. We’ll be wired up for it and ready, and we know we’re playing a team in form so it’s a great challenge and a great test for us. It’s a mental challenge, a physical challenge and a tactical challenge, and these are the games that the players have to look forward to. It’s a chance to show ourselves from the best side.”
They have obviously been on a great run – how do you stop them Ole?
“We have to be the best possible Man United, no matter who plays on the other side. When we’re the best possible Man United I back my team in any game against any team. That’s the key. Of course, they’ll cause us problems, but we have to find the solution and try to give them other problems to worry about.”