United ready for 'incredible' Saints and Hasenhuttl
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says that Manchester United have made maximum use of our extra preparation time, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Southampton.
By the time the match kicks off at St Mary’s at 14:00 GMT, almost five days will have elapsed since the Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir – a significant amount of time between games, especially in this most congested of campaigns.
In an interview with club media, the boss elaborated on why the Reds need to be on our game against the ever-improving Saints, and also spoke about the late, great Diego Maradona…
Hi Ole, thanks, as ever, for joining us. Before we get into the game against Southampton, can we get your thoughts on the passing of a true football icon in Diego Maradona?
“It was a sad day. I’ve always been a big fan of Diego and I think that he’s the best player I’ve ever seen live. I’ve not seen Pele, of course, and Georgie Best, but I had the pleasure of seeing Diego play against Norway in 1986 – the last game before [Argentina] went to the World Cup. For me, just following his career and how he dealt with the ups and downs, I can understand how people in Argentina now have three days of sorrow because he was such an icon and, for me, he’s the best player that I’ve seen. I had the pleasure of meeting him in the directors' box as well at Old Trafford, when I was the manager of Cardiff. I came up to see the game against Liverpool in 2014 and, at half-time, I had the pleasure of taking a picture with him, so that’s something I treasure.”
Ole wary of much-improved SaintsVideo
That can sit just behind that amazing picture of you, Eric and the boss! In the great football pictures, that’s a close second. How have the last few days been for you? We’re in the strange situation where you’ve got a few days to actually prepare for a Premier League game…
“Very strange! It’s been a [bit of] breathing space for the boys. We managed to give them the day off on Wednesday. Thursday was a recovery day to get going again and then we’ve got two days' preparation for the game on Sunday. It’s time to breathe a little bit and also to be ready. You need to prepare well before Southampton because they have improved immensely. They are a difficult team to play against.”
What is your view on the work done by Ralph Hasenhuttl there?
“It is incredible when you look back over the last 12 months, the change and the consistency of the results he’s had. We just had a stat the other day, the last 33 or 34 games, they’re probably the fourth or fifth-best team in the league. That just says everything about the change that has happened since the game they had against Leicester last season [the 9-0 defeat]. You see the way Ralph has turned it around and it’s just proof of the quality of the club and the manager. You have to admire that.”
Games against them recently have always been very tough and very close…
“Yeah, two draws last season, two tight games. Of course, we know that we have to improve on those performances and we have to learn from those performances. But we still have to trust ourselves and play our way. That’s key here, that we get up to our best level, because we need to be at our best against a team of this quality.”
You always do your homework and you are very well-prepared but that stat you’ve just read out is unbelievable. For a club the size of Southampton, they’re probably punching above their weight…
“Yeah, you might say so but then it’s just proof of the work that’s being done down at the club. They’ve had a fantastic record of signing players and improving them. We’ve signed a few players from there and Luke [Shaw] always talks highly of Southampton and his time there. We know we’re in a game and it’s strange for us to have that many days of preparation for it.”
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What about the squad news? How’s the team? Aaron [Wan-Bissaka] and Victor [Lindelof] came off early in midweek…
“We hope they’re going to be okay and probably will be. But it looks like Paul [Pogba] and Scott [McTominay] might be unavailable still. It might come a little bit early for them, so we have more or less the same squad that was available for Istanbul. Jesse [Lingard] is back after his isolation, so he’s been training for a couple of days as well.”
Which is good to hear, you need as many fit players as possible as we leave November and enter what is a really busy December for you…
“December and January are amazingly congested months. If we do our job in the Carabao Cup, we might have a semi-final in there as well. So we have about 10 games each month, which is not many days of recovery but that’s when you try to utilise the squad, whenever you need to.”
And you definitely would rather have all those games, wouldn’t you?
“100 per cent and we will never, ever complain about having big games for this club and that’s what we’ve always been used to. It’s about getting the rhythm: play, rest, recover, play, rest, recover.”