Read every word from Ole and Scott's pre-match press conference
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Scott McTominay faced the national and European press on Tuesday, in their pre-match press conference ahead of the Champions League clash between Manchester United and RB Leipzig.
For journalists, it was a rare opportunity to speak to our no.39, and they asked him about the competition for places in the midfield area, Donny van de Beek and the difficulties caused by a lack of pre-season.
As for Ole, the press are more than used to speaking to him, and the boss was quizzed about Fred, getting back-to-back Champions League wins, the threat posed by Leipzig and the transfer rumours surrounding their centre-back Dayot Upamecano.
Below is a blow-by-blow account of everything that was said during the press conference...
OGS: “Well, we look at every game as a chance to get three points and in the group stage with four teams, you’d think 10 points would get you through. Of course, to get to 10 points as quickly as we possibly can is our aim. Now it’s our sole focus on the three points tomorrow night.”
How is the squad looking? Are there any absentees?
OGS: “We have, more or less, the same squad. There are a couple of doubts and knocks as you usually have after a weekend game - a tight game as we had against Chelsea. But I think we’ll be more or less the same squad.”
I would like you to evaluate Fred’s season so far. He’s been occurring more often in your squad and he’s a player who you’ve said many times that you trust…
OGS: “He’s a very valuable player in the squad. He’s a great boy to have in and around the team, very positive and his performances on the pitch have been positive when he’s been on. He’s getting better and better, more and more used to the Premier League. But, as you see, his fitness and sharpness is very important for us in midfield, alongside Scott - they’ve had some fantastic games.”
With the number of games you’ve got this season, can you just describe the benefits of getting through [to the last-16] as soon as possible? Will it give you an opportunity to rest players later in the year?
OGS: "I think this season is a very special one. We are in a special situation and circumstance. We play a game every three days; sometimes it’s two days, sometimes you’re lucky and have three days in between. But you’re going to do it relentlessly until the end of the season, then there’s the Euros and the new season. Of course, any chance to give players a breather and a break would be very welcome. Another reason not to take any chances when the games come thick and fast, [is] that you don’t want to push players too much because there is a risk of injury. That human side of it is going to be a big part of it this season. You can look on telly and think ‘yeah they’re ready’, but we need to look after the boys. That’s our job as a club and as medical staff.”
What do you know about Red Bull Leipzig and what type of game are you expecting?
OGS: “I know they’re not called what you just said [laughs]. They’re a club that have come up though the ranks very impressively. They’ve almost improved every single season. Last season [they were] third in the Bundesliga and now have started really well [this season]. They got to the semi-final [of the Champions League last season] and they’re really going for the big trophies. They have a young coach who is very proactive, a very interesting coach to watch. They’re very adaptable with players who have got very high energy and tempo. All in all, they’ve been a team that are very interesting to follow in the last few years.”
Slightly off topic if you don’t mind, but I don’t know if you have seen that the FA have today launched a Football Diversity Code. The programme aims for clubs to hire a proportion of BAME applicants for coaching roles and executive roles. We all know there is a serious problem, I just wondered if you have any thoughts on is this going to be the thing that finally starts to see some positive progress. I know United are one of the clubs to sign up…OGS: “Yeah, we’ve signed up. Of course, there have been so many disappointing incidents lately, both on and off the pitch. We want to be a part of it and hopefully there will be a change because my colour or race doesn’t make me a better or worse coach. That’s simple and common sense.”
OGS: “It’s going to be a long season. Of course, the depth of our squad is better now. [It’s hard] to leave players out like the last game with Donny, Nemanja [Matic] and Paul to start on the bench, as midfielders they are all experienced international footballers. It’s not easy but then, as I’ve said, we have so many games this season and they are all going to play a big, massive part in different periods of the season. I don’t think anyone is able to play all of them. There’s a balance when you put 11 together, it’s important we all work well as a team – is it three or four or two? All sorts of discussions and who is on form and who maybe needs a break? All these little things.”
SM: “I feel like whenever we do play with different rotations in midfield, I feel that we’re all more than capable of playing with each other and stuff like that. I don’t think there’s a stereotype that etcetera has to play together. I feel like the coaches have faith in all of us and the way we play in matches. He’s right in that sometimes players do need a break and some might be playing a bit better than other and vice versa. I feel like we’re all happy to play alongside each other and it’s not a designated two or three or four which can play together. We’re adaptable with the way we play.”
My question is more of a follow-up to the one you just responded to. Talking about midfield, how have you managed to balance it with van de Beek and Paul Pogba having to sit [out] recent games? Is there any sort of pressure at trying to satisfy players with a team rotation?
OGS: “You know, I’ve been part of a successful Man United team myself and we had two players in every single position. I think now, the most successful teams, the teams that have been winning trophies, they have competition for places. It’s not easy to leave players out; it is very difficult, but I don’t feel that pressure. The pressure is on getting results and picking a team that we think is going to win the next game and even planning for the next two, three or four games. We need to win more than just one game. But, it’s a nice challenge and problem to have, and I’d rather have that one than having to play players that aren’t ready for the Premier League.”
SM: “I feel our pre-season was very minimal - we only had one friendly game at Aston Villa and other than it was the bare minimum. That’s the way the season panned out with the virus. For us, the games are a chance to get fit. I feel that the start of season is firmly about getting your feet together and getting everything moving. Now we’re starting to see proper fitness levels and everyone is really pushing for every single game. Everyone is fighting fit in the squad now. I feel like everybody is really dialled in and focused on getting into the team and staying there as well.”
What do you think would be the one particular difficulty, the one particular challenge playing against RB Leipzig. Do you fixate on one player or maybe on a line-up of the opponent? Are you ready to take them on?
OGS: “When you prepare for games you watch quite a few of the opposition games and, of course, we’ve followed Leipzig for the last few years and especially in Europe and the top Bundesliga games. I know Julian [Nagelsmann] is very adaptable; he’s capable of putting teams up in different formations, but the style is always there. The style is always one to dominate; it’s high tempo, high pressure. For us, we prepare for a difficult game against a team that can play in many different ways. Our focus is on ourselves, that we have to give them problems and make sure we can solve whatever problems they can give us. It’s one of those coaches and teams that you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it’s live. It’s a game I’m looking forward to very much.”
Just on Donny van de Beek, is it a surprise that he hasn’t played more in the Premier League? Should he be surprised? Should we be surprised?
OGS: “Well, you know, when players come into a new league, to a new team, there is always going to be a time of adapting. Donny, when he’s played, has played really well. It says a lot about our depth of quality in the squad that we don’t have to use him in every single game because we have other players as well. Also, I think it says everything about our ambitions: we want to push on to challenge for trophies this season. You know, Donny is going to play a big, big part this year. At the moment, I realise the topic is Donny van de Beek. It’s nice for some players or commentators to have a little go and I know that they’re short for time when they’re on telly and have to put your points across very quickly. But you have to know you don’t have to start the first three games to be a very important player in the squad. I’d be disappointed if some of my team-mates said I wasn’t important at Manchester United because I didn’t start many games. Donny is going to be very important for us. Don’t worry about that.”
Just following on from that, what have you made of Donny, and this increased competition in midfield since Donny and Bruno [Fernandes] have come in, how much has that helped you improve your game?
SM: “You see the way that Donny comes to training every day [with] a big smile on his face, wanting to work hard and wanting to impress everyone. As the manger said, I’m so confident he’ll be an important figure in this team and throughout the whole season. The way he’s come in has lifted everyone else, with Edinson [Cavani] and Alex [Telles]. Big singings like that, who are top-quality players, can really lift a dressing room and I feel like we’ve already seen with the way that Alex played in Paris and with Donny coming off the bench and showing what he has whenever he has come on the pitch. There’s no time to panic for Donny. I feel like people are so quick to come to an assumption [because] he’s not playing. Give him time to adapt to a new league. Give him time to settle into his new house, or wherever he’s living. Let him concentrate on the team.”
What about yourself - the competition for places, at a club like United, that will only help your game?
SM: “That’s normal, when you play for Man United if you don’t have completion for places then I feel like you should be a little bit worried if nobody is pushing you or wants your shirt off you. You have to come into training with that mindset and that ambition to really keep improving. The coaches - the manager, Kieran [McKenna] and Michael [Carrick]; everyone really has helped me over the last few years to adapt. I feel like this time three years’ ago I’m a very different player to what we’re seeing now.”
There were always rumours about Dayot Upamecano going to Manchester last summer. What do you think about him and would he fit into your team?
OGS: “There’s always rumours and speculation about good players and Man United. I have always tried to respect that they are players for other teams. I don’t want to comment on every player that we’re linked to, but seeing as he’s playing against us tomorrow, I know he’s a very good player. We can see him up close tomorrow.”