Exclusive: Solskjaer previews Carabao Cup semi
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says his Manchester United side have developed since reaching three semi-finals during the 2019/20 campaign.
The Reds made it to the last four of the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League last term, but lost to Manchester City, Chelsea and Sevilla respectively.
Solskjaer feels that the team is in a better position heading into another meeting with City in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, and that hopefully they can secure a berth in the showpiece event at Wembley at the end of April, to give fans something to celebrate during these tough times.
The boss also spoke about Darren Fletcher and Eric Bailly in our sit-down chat, which you can read in full below...
Ole first of all, we’re obviously now into this new national lockdown but I wondered if football can be quite important for people’s mental health, really? It gives them something to focus on during another difficult time…
“Yeah, these are very difficult times and strange times. Of course another full lockdown will challenge everyone. I hope football can be a release, it can be entertainment. It can be a highlight of the day or the week. There are so many games so I hope we can still continue playing football and giving our fans something to cheer on.”
You’ve made a new signing as well, in Darren Fletcher. Is it good to have him back?
“Yeah, I thought Michael [Carrick] and Darren should play in midfield for one of these big games! No, it’s good to have him back. Fletch has been very important for this club for many years. I’ve known him since he was a young boy coming through as a 16-year-old and Mark Dempsey, he’s moved down to the Academy helping out there more. We had an opening, an open spot and with Darren having been away for a few years I thought it was important that we brought him in, because he’s got very many good opinions and ideas about football and I thought he’s been in with the [Under-]16s, starting his coaching. We felt it was right bringing him in now.”
You’ve clearly got a core of people there who know the club and the values and everything about it. Is that part of your plan, really?
“I think it’s important that we know what we are working for and working towards. Many of us we’ve been successful here, we’ve won trophies, we’ve been here for many, many years and we know what it takes to be a Man United player and coach. I like that idea. It’s not a must. We’ve got coaches here as well, with Richard [Hartis], Craig [Mawson], Martyn [Pert], Kieran [McKenna], they’ve not played for Man United but they’ve got different skillsets and attributes that really make this coaching staff work. They all complement each other and that’s a key word: that we complement and challenge each other and move the club forward. We know what kind of values we want. It says in the word United: we are a team. We stay together and it’s a joy coming in and seeing these lads work every day. They help the players improve individually and spend so much energy on trying to improve the team as well. It’s a fantastic group.”
Fletch of course used to love a Manchester derby. Do you expect this one to be different to the one we saw a month ago, which was quite a quiet game, if you like, the 0-0?
“Well, it was a good game and in many sense of course there were two teams with loads of respect for each other. In a league game you can end up with a draw, you’re going to get a winner in this one. It’s a cup game, with two teams that are going to go for it. It’s a chance to get to a final and to Wembley and move one step further than we did last season.”
Would getting past a semi-final – we were so close last year – be an important stepping stone in the development of this team?
“I think so yeah, both in the development of the team and for our fans as well, that we are believing, we are hoping now that we get closer to a trophy and get our hands on that trophy. We are better than what we were six months ago in Europe, or the FA Cup semi or definitely a year back when we got to the Carabao Cup semi. We’ve improved, we have developed and hopefully we’ve developed enough to go all the way to the final.”
The spirit of the squad was so evident against Villa, particularly with Eric. I’m just checking: Why’s Eric so popular? What sort of character is he?
“Eric speaks many languages so he’s one that connects people. We know Eric has had a tough few seasons with injuries, and tough spells, but he always gives 100 per cent. He gives everything for his team-mates. He’s one of those that you want in your team, you want in your side if there’s a battle going on. He’s just a very likeable person. You see the harmony and unity in the group. I believe this is going to be important this season, with the fixture congestion and the schedule, that players know they have the chance and possibility to contribute - and they will contribute throughout the season. Eric has played the last four now and he’s been absolutely top.”
How’s the squad looking ahead of this one, Ole? You’ve had a few days to prepare, I guess…
“Yeah, they’re bright. They had a couple of days of recovery, not recovery, but [it’s been] lighter. We’ve had a couple of days to prepare. Of course, the training is just after we’re talking, so we haven’t had the training this morning. Victor [Lindelof] has been training, he's been with us. Edinson [Cavani] is suspended. Apart from that we have a very strong squad to choose from.”