Solskjaer reacts to Europa League quarter-final draw
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he isn’t taking anything for granted, after Manchester United discovered our UEFA Europa League destiny on Friday.
The Reds will face Turkey’s Istanbul Basaksehir or Denmark’s FC Copenhagen in the quarter-finals of the competition, should we progress beyond our last-16 tie against LASK.
With a healthy 5-0 lead from the first-leg in Austria in March, United are odds-on favourites to book a place in the next round, which will be held in Germany as part of an eight-team, single-legged knockout tournament necessitated by the COVID-19 situation.
Despite his side’s route to a potential final in Cologne on 21 August now being fully mapped out – United could go on to face Olympiacos, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Roma or Sevilla in a semi-final – Solskjaer isn’t getting carried away with dreams of a showpiece event just yet.
“Well, I don’t want to look too far because I just think we should focus on the next game,” Ole told us on Friday.
“We’re in a position now where we’re just focusing on the league but of course, when you look at the ties that can come – we could play Wolves, we could meet Ashley [Young] and Romelu [Lukaku, both of Inter] so there’s definitely games to be looking forward to and we just have to keep on our run.
“Hopefully we can go through to the quarter-finals but again, as we said, it’s about finishing off the LASK tie first.”
As long as United get the job done against the Austrians at Old Trafford in early August, Solskjaer is guaranteed a reunion of sorts.
Turkish league leaders Basaksehir, who lead Copenhagen 1-0 from their first-leg, boast one of Ole’s former players in their ranks, while the Danish champions are managed by one of the boss’s good friends.
“It’s exciting for me because if it’s Istanbul then they’ve got an ex-player of mine, Fredrik Gulbrandsen that I managed at Molde for a few years,” Ole added.
“I’ve seen them coming through lately and they’re improving as a team and obviously Copenhagen is managed by my mate Ståle Solbakken, so that’s exciting.”
The boss said the unusual denouement to this season’s competition is something he and his squad are hotly anticipating, and he also added that our recent good form in the Premier League could help us adjust to the demands of playing ‘tournament’ football against some dangerous European sides.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s like a mini tournament.
“I’ve been involved in a European Championship and a World Cup so we’ll be living tight together abroad and we’ve got some staff here that have been involved in those kinds of tournaments so we’ll prepare really well and hopefully we can last more than just the one game.
“I look on it the opposite way in that I think we’re playing well and getting to a high level and standard of football, and hopefully we can just carry that on into Europe and into next season.”
Bruno Fernandes, who has been involved in more goals than any other player in this season’s Europa League, with six goals and four assists for United and former club Sporting Lisbon, was more bullish in his own reaction to the draw.
Like his boss, Bruno was keen to point out the importance of the LASK game, before turning our attention to beating whoever might be in our path next.
“For me, it’s the same as I don’t care because, when you play for Manchester, you know you need to win every game,” said Fernandes. “It doesn’t matter who you play against when you play for one of the biggest teams in the world and you can beat everyone.”
“We need to focus on beating everyone so, of course for me, the first point is winning against LASK. It doesn’t matter if you have five goals away, we need to win again and need to score five goals. It doesn’t matter - football is about winning.
“Winning gives you confidence so we can’t stop in this moment in thinking about just playing against LASK. We’ll see when we’re playing against them, winning the game, and, after, think about Copenhagen or Istanbul. It doesn’t matter who comes.”