Solskjaer exclusive: We've waited for a fight like this
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fully expecting a battle to the very end as the race for a top-four spot continues to hot up in the Premier League.
United are one of a large number of teams who are vying for the remaining places, with Liverpool already qualified and Manchester City seemingly almost there.
The likes of Leicester City, Chelsea, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Sheffield United are all in contention for those last Champions League spots and Ole is hoping his side can further boost hopes with a victory at Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday evening.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Stewart Gardner catches up with Solskjaer on the latest talking points and looks forward to another important outing for the Reds...
First of all, what’s your reaction to the FA Cup semi-final draw against Chelsea – they are familiar foes of course?
“We’ve had lots of games at Wembley against them and of course we’ve had quite a few cup games against them in the last couple of seasons as well. They’re a team that will know a lot about us and they’re a team we know a lot about too. We’re looking forward to being at Wembley, any team who you draw there would be a top team anyway. I can’t wait, it’s been a while.”
You’ve had a great record under Chelsea since you’ve been manager so you must be confident going into the game?
“Yes of course we are. One, we’ve played quite a few good games against them lately and we know that we’re competitive and have done really well against them and two, we have some really good momentum, we are building that and we’re in good form. The players are getting fitter and fitter and improving. The games are coming thick and fast and of course when you go to Wembley you know that a place in the final is at stake so we’re going to go for it.”
You mentioned games are coming thick and fast, they certainly are with another match on Tuesday, away at Brighton. Are there any problems in the squad after all that hard work on Saturday at Norwich?
“No apart from of course the after-effects of the physical work-out and coming back late, they had a recovery day yesterday and today will be an easy day and we’re just preparing for tomorrow. I think the buzz and the energy that the win and a semi-final place will give you will help us tomorrow night.”
You made changes for the game on Saturday so I guess a number of the lads will be fresh coming into Tuesday’s game?
“Yes. We’ve discussed it quite a few times now, this lockdown period means there are loads of games in a short space of time, but the five subs of course makes it a different job. You can make changes at half-time and or make them early and you spread the minutes around, and that’s what it’s about for a squad. We’re all working here every day together and everyone needs to feel that they’re part of it and they have been.”
You’re never one for excuses but Brighton have had a lot longer to prepare for this game, but is that something you just have to put up with when you go deep into a cup competition like we have in the FA Cup?
“That’s the normal routine for a Man United player. You play midweek, weekend, midweek, weekend… you do that all the time. You can discuss other teams and say they have 24 hours more recovery and blah blah blah, but it doesn’t fit in to my thinking. As soon as you sign for Man United you should be ready to play up to 60 games a season with a game every three or four days.”
Harry Maguire is a player who is rarely rotated. How important a figure has he so quickly become at United?
“I think his performances on the pitch say it all. He’s become club captain, he’s a leader and he’s chipping in with goals, so I’m very happy with Harry. He’s a big lad and he gets better and better the more he plays. I think we’ll see him improving more and more the games he plays. He’ll get his sharpness from games.”
He’s got three goals, two of which have been with his feet, but he’s such a threat from set-pieces as well, so do you think he could end scoring more with his head?
“Definitely, and he should do. Tim Krul had a great save on Saturday from his header and we know that he’s a threat to anyone. I said it when we played Leicester last season it’s like he has a magnet on his head with the ball and we’re now getting used to him and his movement, with Bruno coming up with some good deliveries. And we know when Harry is in there then anything can happen.”
Ole's press conference to preview Brighton away
Watch the manager's media briefing to ensure you're ready for Tuesday's important Premier League game at Brighton...
Brighton have had a really impressive restart, they beat Arsenal and drew away at Leicester. They seem to have hit the ground running…
“Yes and just before lockdown they drew 0-0 against Wolves so they’re a very well-organised team by Graham [Potter]. You can see they’re a very well-coached team when you watch them, you see the patterns and how they work and what their thinking is. So we know this will be a difficult challenge and the last couple of trips down to the coast haven’t been the best for us, but we need to put that right and work to get three points.”
Graham Potter has had an intriguing route to the Premier League with Östersund in Sweden and then Swansea City, and he seems to be having a decent time of it in his first season at this level…
“Yes and as I said you can how he coaches his teams. I followed his progress through the league with Östersund in Scandinavia. He moved there to get his coaching philosophy and experience and he ended up beating Arsenal with them in the Europa League in London. He had a fantastic impact on Swedish football there and you can see now he’s getting his team to play the way he wants them to play, so it’s going to be a game in which we have to perform really well to get points.”
Finally Ole, every game is huge isn’t it now and Leicester are clearly in this battle for a top-four place. Every game has so much on it now…
“Yes and that’s the beauty of it. We’ve been waiting for months and months to get football back on TV and in the stadiums so now I think the audience and the fans have the feeling that every game is important for many teams. There are different situations down at the bottom and the top, so it’s great to sit back and watch some of it at times, but this is a game for us to go and get three points in.”