Exclusive: Ole reveals his plans for AZ Alkmaar
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits he will make changes to his Manchester United side for the Europa League clash with AZ Alkmaar, but insists the Reds are determined to maintain a winning run after two excellent victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
United, who have already qualified for the knock-out stages, can finish top of Group L with a draw against the Dutch side at Old Trafford.
Ole expects a tough contest against a team who currently sit second behind Ajax in the Eredivisie but, in our exclusive pre-match interview, the United manager says his players are in fine fettle after two important victories...
Ole, I can imagine this place has been absolutely buzzing since the Manchester derby win…
“Yes of course. Results always affect the mood in the camp and the win against City, your big rivals, of course means a lot for everyone. But then it’s time to move on.”
Just before we do move on… presumably you’ve watched the performance back - was it as good as you thought at the time?
“You do get a feeling there and then how the game is panning out. Of course in the first five or six times you’re thinking we need to get through this first 10 to 12 minutes. Against any team we’ll create chances and we did that on the counterattack. You’re thinking if we can keep it like this we’ll keep creating chances and from 15 minutes to 35 minutes I thought we were absolutely top class.”
We’re now focusing on the Europa League. You took a very young squad to Astana, but how will you approach this game on Thursday?
“Obviously the decision we made [on taking the youngsters on that trip] has paid off. The young players got the experience and the lads back here trained and were fresh, and I think that’s the reason that we could still hang on to the win, 2-1 against City and the Tottenham one, so that was down to Kieran [McKenna] and Michael [Carrick] keeping them fit. This week there will be some rotation, we’re through so we’re happy with that. But we have loads of games coming up and we’ll need players to be match-fit when called upon because some of them haven’t played enough and some youngsters will play definitely. But we want to go through as the winners [of the group] and it’s our aim to play a good game and give game-time to a few players.”
It must have been a great experience for the young players to play in Kazakhstan and it will be another great experience for them if they play at Old Trafford on Thursday won’t it…
“Yes you always remember your first big game at Old Trafford. Some of them will get the chance now and hopefully they can give us another headache by showing they want to play in the league games as well. You’ve seen that with Brandon [Williams] and Mason [Greenwood] - they’ve done really well to push for places.”
Brandon has kind of made his name in the Europa League this season and has gone on from there – can that inspire some of the other young lads who can see that there is a pathway…
“There is always a path at Man United, if you’re good enough you’ll get your chances. If you train hard enough and you do well in your [youth] teams you’ll get a chance. There will be loads of boys who have been playing with Mason and Brandon over the years and they’ll be looking at them thinking ‘well if they can do it, why can’t I?’ You just have to keep going and that’s what we want. We want to show the youngsters that there is a way to get through [to the first team] but you’ve got to earn it.”
Is there any update on the squad and any players who might have been out injured for a while?
“Diogo [Dalot] is back training fully. Nemanja [Matic] is back. [Marcos] Rojo is hopefully back next week. Eric [Bailly] and Timothy [Fosu-Mensah] will be training with the team from next week onwards. So we're getting better and better in that respect. In January, I reckon we will have many of them match-fit. Paul [Pogba] is not ready to play yet but won't be far away.”
Putting in the hard yards Gallery
The Reds have been in action at the Aon Training Complex ahead of our Europa League clash with AZ.
A point wins the group for us and that could well be a prize worth having couldn’t it…
“Any game you play you want to win, but you know you’re playing against a good team. They’re just behind Ajax and if it was Ajax here on Thursday night people would be saying that’s a massive game. I think the name Alkmaar is not very well known but for us we’ve been watching them and we know their quality. They’re just behind Ajax and way ahead of PSV so there is quality in this team and we need to play to our best.”
They’re not a team full of names, it’s a team more homegrown isn’t it…
“Yes and there are some Dutch internationals and Norwegian internationals and Moroccan internationals in there. It’s a team full of quality and they’re a team used to playing with each other and they can keep the ball for long spells in games so we’ll need to be on our game.”
Alkmaar acclimatise Gallery
The AZ players have been getting used to the Old Trafford turf before our final Europa League group game.
This is the first of three home games in a week in different competitions – are you looking forward to being back at Old Trafford and will we see different teams in the three different games?
“They’re all competitions we still want to improve in of course. We have the quarter-final next week which is a big game, we have this game on Thursday and the league is something we have to keep on going in. It’s great being back home at Old Trafford. We had four away games on the bounce in October/November, now we have three home games so we’ll make sure we enjoy them.”
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