Ole's pre-City press conference: Read every word
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is preparing his Manchester United squad for perhaps our biggest game of the 2020/21 season to date, as we host Manchester City in the Carabao Cup semi-final.
However, Ole and his players are among the few in England who are currently permitted to go to work on a daily basis, following the announcement on Monday that the country is set to enter a third national lockdown as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.
The boss was asked for his views on football's continuation under such circumstances, during his pre-match press conference ahead of Wednesday's derby.
During the video call, Ole was also quizzed on his semi-final record, playing the last-four clash over one leg and having five days to prepare for Pep Guardiola's side.
Below is every word from the first half of Tuesday's media briefing...
In the programme the other day, you spoke about the need to win silverware. Clearly this a fourth semi-final in a row for you, you haven’t won one yet - how important is tomorrow’s game?
“It’s always a good question: how important is it? Then I can answer: very. The next game is always important but a semi-final is always very important and a chance to get to the final and to get your hands on a trophy in the next round. For this team it would be a very big step, getting your hands on a trophy. We’ve developed a lot in the last six months, or 12 months from the last Carabao Cup semi. It’s not just learning to win semis, we’ve also earned the right to feel we can go all the way with our performances. We’re confident; we go into the game in form. There are no excuses.”
In terms of winning something for you as well - people can see the progress you’ve made, but a trophy is something tangible that you’ve achieved…
“Yeah, of course. You play football to win trophies, to get your hands on trophies. Even though, as soon as you win a trophy you move on to the next one. It gives you the hunger to get more. Of course, the squad is focused and we’re ready to give it a go. I think we’ve prepared well for this game.”
“We’re disappointed not having Edinson [Cavani] involved. He’s probably the only one that’s not - and Phil Jones who has been out for a long time - they’re the only two that are not available for selection, which is a good position to be in.”
That’s pretty remarkable at this time of the season. In terms of Darren Fletcher, it was announced yesterday that he would join as a first-team coach. Why was that move made and I know you spoke about him having Manchester United DNA, but what does he bring to the club?
“He’s got the Man United DNA and there was a spot open because Mark Dempsey has moved to the Academy. We felt he is so valuable there; he has been brilliant in the Academy. So then when this opening came… Darren has been away from the club for a few years and then he has been back doing coaching with the [Under] 16s. With his experience of being here through both successful and difficult times, we felt it was right now for Darren to come in and give us that input. I think it’s important that we bring in ex-players who have been somewhere else. I’ve been somewhere else after having Sir Alex [Ferguson] and Mick Phelan and Carlos [Queiroz], we know one way of coaching, but they’ve been at different clubs and have got different ideas. Fletch, with his years and knowledge, will improve us in the backroom staff.”
“Well, you have two teams who want to get to the final. We’ve had four days now after Villa so, hopefully, we’ve got more fresh legs. It’s a difficult season, but I think we’ll benefit from the rotation we’ve made. I thought it was going to be important anyway this season, having fresh legs. You could see that with City against Chelsea, the amount of fresh legs, intensity and sharpness after the break they had. It showed, and that was a quality game - physically one of the more intense games that’s been in the league this season. I don’t think that’s a surprise there because they had a few extra days to prepare for that one. Two teams that want to go through. I think the last game showed two teams with respect for each other. They weren’t as much possession-based against Chelsea, they were more counter-attacking. They’ve got quick players on the break - of course, we have to be aware of that, as well as their possession game.”
Can I get your view on the national lockdown that was announced last night? Do you think your players are safe to continue despite most of the country not being able to go out and work?
“Well, of course it’s a hard and difficult situation for everyone. Last year - from March to now - has been a testing time for everyone. We are privileged to play football under the protocols that we are working under. We hope that we can continue. I think mentally, for many, it would be a release to watch games now, especially when we’re in full lockdown again. We hope that we can continue, but we know that we have to work hard to stay within the rules and guidelines. We’re doing our best to keep the show on the road.”
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“Well if you get to a semi, you’ve done a lot of good work to get to a semi-final. Naturally, you play against better and better opposition and I feel that we’ve improved immensely in a year since the last semi. Even since we were in Europe in August. For me, it’s a step closer to get to the final. We’ve developed a lot. It’s easy to say: have we learned? But it’s not about learned, it’s about fine margins in those semi-finals. When you win games of football you don’t think about if it’s a semi-final or just a normal league game, or a quarter-final. You just think about this game and you want to win it.”
It’ll be your seventh Manchester derby in two years as a manager. You’ve had the edge on results - aside from the results, what sort of progression have you seen in terms of the performances against City?
“I’ve seen progress and sometimes the results don’t show the whole picture of the game. Some of our counter attacking goals in the wins that we’ve had have been brilliant. Away in the league when we won, we could have scored four or five in a 10-15-minute period. The counter attacks were just out of this world. But we’ve had less control of the ball and defended fantastically. I think the last game was more or less 50-50 in terms of possession and maybe more cagey from both teams. Still, I felt that was a progression, staying more in the game. You never know what kind of system he [Pep Guardiola] is going to come up with, but you know you have to defend really well against Man City. It’s hard to keep the ball in their half when they’ve got it because they can find a way of overloading. So you have to be brave and be compact and trust your players. Then again, when we have the ball we need to keep it as well and play out of their press. They’re one of the quickest ones to put the counter pressure on and want to win it high up. It’s a balance that I think we’ve found, but we didn’t have that X-Factor the last game. Maybe because they were a little bit more cagey and set up to counter-attack more as well. It’s been some fascinating games and I feel we’ve got closer and closer and results, sometimes you can’t control.”