Southampton v United: Ole's press conference
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced the media on Friday, ahead of our trip to Southampton.
The Reds boss was asked about several topics, including the challenges of facing in-form Southampton, the importance of Bruno Fernandes, our squad depth, January's transfer window and he shared his views on Diego Maradona, following the legend's sad passing on Wednesday.
Here are the manager's quotes, word for word...
Southampton v United: Ole's press conferenceVideo
Southampton are unbeaten in seven, three points off the top of the table. Just how tough of a test is this going to be for your side?
“They've done well, if you look back on a 30-40 game block, they're one of the top teams. So they've made great improvements and we know how difficult this game is going to be. We drew twice against them last season so, for us, this is a game we can make an improvement on.”
Do you think the challenges of the fixture schedule, especially for the clubs like yourself being in Europe, gives teams a chance outside of the top six to improve this season and perhaps get into that top four or five?
“I think this season is going to be a very unpredictable one. So yeah, of course, sometimes there will be advantages of having a full week's training but we want to be in the Champions League, so I'd rather be there and face the congestion rather than not having it, of course. That's just a situation we have to get used to and make the most of.”
Can I get an update on team news? Is anyone injured at the moment?
“Scott and Paul, they didn't train this morning. They were not on the grass so they are very unlikely for the weekend. Marcus, Victor, Aaron, they came through the session today, so hopefully they should be okay, still not 100 per cent. Luke has just started his rehab out on the grass, but is not with the team yet. Jesse's back from his isolation period, so he's come back with the group and had a couple of days' training. Apart from that, Phil Jones is still out until probably after Christmas some time.”
Mason Greenwood took United by storm last year and now he's had some criticism after difficult episodes and being accused of one thing and the other on social media. Do you think people, every now and then, have a tendency to forget that footballers also are just human beings? He's just 19, so ups and downs are maybe to be expected?
“We try to help all of our players, if they're young and old. The more experience you have, the greater chance you have to avoid a mistake here and there. I don't have an issue with helping young players and help them become good footballers, and Mason is a really good footballer.
In terms of team news and players who can play, Donny and Edinson played a full game the other night, are they in a condition to start if you choose to play them on Sunday?
”We played on Tuesday then we don't have a game until Sunday, so it's been a long period for us. We've manage to give the boys one day off as well, in these difficult times, so they're available to play and I'm sure, if they do, that they are capable of playing again.
I know fans will have to wait to return to Old Trafford as we are in Tier 3 in Manchester but there will be fans next week at West Ham. What impact do you think that will have, and is this a light at the end of the tunnel?
”I think so, I'm very pleased with the progress, that we can let the fans in gradually. Of course, we can't wait to see fans at Old Trafford. We know how long they've been waiting to be there and watch the games live. So, steps in the right direction. Even though we're the away team, it's still creating an atmosphere in the game so I'm looking forward to it.
Just to clarify, Paul had problems with his ankle last season and got an ankle injury at the moment. Is that related to his issue last season or is it a separate issue?
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When you started out as a manager at 13, you named your first team after Diego Maradona. How are you feeling after the news?
“It was a sad day. For me, Diego Maradona will always be the best that I've seen live. I was fortunate to see him for Argentina against Norway in Oslo. They lost 1-0 in the World Cup and I remember a Norwegian lad Kjetil Osvold nutmegging him, which I thought was fantastic. After the game, I was stood outside trying to get a glimpse of him. I actually touched his shoulder as he walked past the crowd. Since then, I had the pleasure of meeting him at Old Trafford. A guy with unbelievable talent on the pitch and a smile always when you see him as well. I've got to say it was a sad day. For me, he will be the best that's ever played football.”
You won three in a row and it's a long time since you've won four in a row since you took over. Are these the kind of games you really need to win to prove you're on the right track in terms of getting the club back to where it wants to be rather than scrambling to get into the Champions League?
“Of course, we want that run to continue. We know how well Southampton have done recently, or lately, in the last year or so. Still, we have a very good away record and I think we are up there as well since the turn of January when we had some ins and outs, transfers, I think that was a big turning point for us. Since then, we've pushed up the table and, depending on how many games you look back at, I think we're getting that consistency. Of course, we know that this is a nice challenge and a good test for the team now to see if we've really learned our lessons from the games we played against them last season.”
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You mention January there, with the fixture congestion that's been well documented, in the truncated nature of this season, do you think this January will be busier for Premier League clubs in terms of signings and for Manchester United, in particular?
“It's hard to predict how other teams. [will act].. and how the financial situation is. If teams need to sell or if they've got money to buy. I don't predict a lot of ins and outs, to be fair. The world, financially, and football has changed as well also. It depends how the injury situations are at different teams. I feel very happy with my squad at the moment. We're getting stronger. I still have issues every week when we only got an 18-man squad to pick from. Who do you leave out? I feel I'm in a good position.”
Bruno obviously had another great game for you in midweek. I think, on the Facebook page, a lot of fans said he's been the best signing since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. I know managers aren't allowed to make comparisons but can he be, to this team, what Ronaldo was for United, in terms of his inspiration? I think it's 34 goal involvements in 35 appearances so he's got that kind of presence and inspirational qualities, hasn't he?
“He does definitely have that presence. He has that influence and impact on his team-mates. We can just look at the results since he's come in. He's got lots of energy, leadership, he's a team player which is a key here now for us going forward. Some players will have to sit games out and rest. I wasn't looking forward to tell Bruno that he was resting against Leipzig but it was absolutely no problem. Same with Marcus, to be fair. Because they know this season is challenging and that's how we build this team and the culture of the team that it's about the team and not individuals. Bruno has proven that, over and over, that it's a team before I.”
“The game against Istanbul, they had the spaces that we felt was going to suit that set-up. Always, when you look into the game, you look at your team but also at how the opposition set up. I think that game suited Marcus on the right and Anthony in the middle. Mason can definitely develop into a top no. 9. He has one of the top no.9s of world football from the last 10 years in Edinson to learn from. That goes for both Anthony and Marcus. Edinson's come in and shown a different way of playing as no.9 that we haven't had at the club for a while. So, they can learn from him, definitely. They are all capable to play in all the positions, which is also a nice skill to have.”
Southampton, they're a team with a very pronounced tactical shape and a plan. What's the challenge when you play against a team that has such a well-known physical ability?
“It's similar as to when Jürgen [Klopp] came to Liverpool. He's a coach who likes pressing on the front foot, they're aggressive. Which is, of course, more difficult to play against. If you dwell on the ball... They set traps. It's very, very interesting to see the progress Southampton have made under Ralph [Hasenhuttl]. You know that you're in a game for 96-97 minutes. They scored against us last year in the 96th minute. I think the first goal at Old Trafford showed what they're capable of when you make a mistake in midfield, they pounced, counter-attacked and score. I'm a big admirer of the physical attributes he has in his team.”