Solskjaer exclusive: We can't wait to face Spurs!

Friday 19 June 2020 08:00

Like the rest of us, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot wait for Manchester United’s Premier League campaign to resume at 20:15 BST with a pivotal match against Tottenham Hotspur.

In our exclusive interview, the boss states his side is fully prepared for the much-anticipated restart and eager to tackle what could be a hectic season finale - with the club also competing in the Emirates FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

The Norwegian also offers his thoughts on Marcus Rashford’s recent achievements off the pitch, the increase in permitted substitutes and how United will adapt to playing behind closed doors. Check out the full transcript below...

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Ole, first of all: when we do kick off on Friday night, it’ll be 103 days since our last Premier League game. Do you feel ready and do the lads feel ready?
“I think we’ve got to try to be as ready as we can. Of course, you don’t really know until you get into the competitive games. We’ve prepared as well as we can. We’ve trained hard, and we’ve had a couple of 11-a-sides between ourselves. We had a friendly game against West Brom and the players look like they’ve looked after themselves in the lockdown as well. We’re as ready as we can be.”

As for the squad, they were pretty much all given a run out in those two West Brom games. Do you have essentially a full squad to choose from?
“Yeah, we’ve got a couple of injuries. Axel [Tuanzebe] will probably be missing and Phil Jones will be missing. Apart from that, I would say everyone else is available for selection. Pre-season, you want to give everyone a chance, everyone the same opportunity to stake a claim for the team. Everyone will play a part. We’ve got plenty of games, hopefully we’ve got a few cup games, plus the league games and the Europa League, so we’ll be going until August some time.”

I think we've got nine Premier League games in 37 days, hopefully 12 games up until the start of August because of the FA Cup. How important is squad depth, do you think?
“It’s always been a big part of Man United and Man United’s successful teams. I think that’s the way to be able to compete in all competitions because you don’t want to make one a higher priority than the others. Players will feel they’re valued and there’ll be some players now travelling down to London even who might play a big, big part in the important games later on.”

The slight difference is you’re now going to have five substitutes to bring on if you want to do that. What do you think of that slight change? Obviously, it’s quite a big physical load isn’t it, for the lads?
“I think it’s good that we look after the players in these circumstances, not just for this first game, 90 minutes, or the second, or this short period of time. But we’ve got to remember all the games coming up as well. Next season will be starting soon – we’re not going to have too much time off. In a transition period, I think it’s OK. I still like the three subs as normal because sometimes the team rhythm can go if you change half the team.”

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Any lads who aren’t involved against Spurs – is the message going to be over the next six weeks: 'You’re going to be involved'? Rotation’s going to be inevitable because of the sheer numbers of games...
“Yeah, definitely and they’ve been told that. You’re right to feel disappointed but there’s only one way of getting back into the team: working hard and showing that you want to give everything you’ve got for the team-mates that you’ve got. In the end, if you end up with a trophy, it’s all worth it.”

How challenging is it going to be logistically as well? I think three of the first four games are quite long away trips. Normally you’d go the day before and stay over and all those sort of things. How different, now that we’re in a different world, is that going to be?
“I think we’re preparing as close to normal as we can. Obviously, the boys cannot use the dressing rooms here [at the Aon Training Complex]. We’ve got less facilities than normal, but they’ve been great. I think they’ve learned a new skill of cleaning their own training gear and stuff! It’s just part of the learning. We’ll travel the day before, because I think it’s important for us to get that rest in-between. So this first week, 10 days, we’ll be travelling a lot. Football will be on our mind all the time. We won’t have time for anything else this week.”

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And Marcus can get back to the day job after ensuring kids aren’t going to go hungry this summer. What an incredible role model. You must be pretty proud of him?
“Oh, very, very proud of him. We know that he’s a future leader, he’s a future maybe England captain, Man United captain, who knows? Marcus has always conducted himself fantastically. It’s not about him, it’s about helping kids that need it. That’s, for me, the pleasure Marcus gets from it. I think he’ll know he’s made a difference for so many people and we’re all proud. He’s just a fantastic human being. He’s had his difficulties over the years and he brings his own experiences into this conversation. Let’s see now how he cares for them and how he’s developed and, of course, his family must be proud as well.”

We saw in Wednesday’s games, football completely unified behind the 'Black Lives Matter' campaign with players and referees taking the knee before kick-off and obviously, on the backs of shirts of players as well. How important is that campaign, do you feel?
“Well I think we’ve had this situation for a long, long time and we’ve had a long-standing commitment to fight racism. Now it’s come out for everyone to see and we can’t let it happen any longer. We’ve had a couple of incidents throughout this season and we’ve talked about it, but now of course, everyone’s joined together and hopefully this can be the time of change.”

As for the actual game, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Spurs have got players back, we’ve got players back. They’ll probably feel very much in the top-four battle as well. It’s a fascinating restart, isn’t it?
“Of course Tottenham are a top team, Champions League finalists last season. Now we know Harry Kane, [Heung-min] Son and [Moussa] Sissoko, they’re all back so we’re going to play against a top team, as you say. The first game, things always happen in the first round, second round after a pre-season. Now of course, it’s towards the end of the season but it’s been a long break and you can see last night even [in the Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal games], mistakes happen that normally don’t. To get into the rhythm is important and we’ve got a tough start, but we’re looking forward to it.”

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The lesson, certainly looking at the Bundesliga, is that home advantage is slightly negated because obviously there’s no crowd. Do you think that might be a factor in this little spell of games?
“You try to make it as homely as possible in your stadium because you get used to the circumstances. Of course, the first one or two games will be different for everyone. We don’t have the crowd to spur you on. I think that’s one of our strengths at Old Trafford as well, with our amazing fans. Even away from home, we feel that support. That’s going to be different. We’ve got to create our own atmosphere and make sure that when we’re away that statistic still is alive, but when we’re at home, we can change it.”

Players will be able to hear you and the coaching staff properly now. We had that one experience in Austria of a game behind closed doors, but it is a slightly strange feeling in the stadium…
“Yeah, sometimes that’s OK. You can talk a couple of players through the game if they’re on the other side of the pitch. But no, I think that game we had in Austria will help us a little bit. I’m sure the boys will feel confident at having played that game and how that went. We feel we’re as ready as we can be.”

Loads at stake over the next six weeks. Are you glad its back? Are you looking forward to all the drama?
“Of course I’m glad to be playing – or coaching – again and managing the boys day to day. That’s what they can do best of all, play football, and it’s competitive. You want to win a game of football. You put your Man United shirt on and nothing is more important than a result. I can’t wait. It’s been a long, long period, a necessary period because we couldn’t have been playing on. But we’re glad everything’s worked out and we’re back on the pitch.”

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