Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer exclusive: We're fitter, stronger and better

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows it is too early to talk about the Premier League title, but the Manchester United manager is delighted by our strong finish to the year and believes his flourishing squad can make further improvements in 2021.

The Reds are currently second in the table and three points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand, which will be played against Burnley at Turf Moor on Tuesday 12 January. Before then, of course, United must face an in-form Aston Villa team at Old Trafford this evening and Solskjaer expects a challenging match from one of the division’s most-improved sides this season.  

Here, in an interview with club reporter Joe Ganley, the manager looks forward to our New Year’s Day kick-off at Old Trafford and offers his opinion on the club’s recent rise up the table…

The Villa game is the final match in a hectic 10-day period, so how do you think the Christmas and New Year period has gone?
“Yeah, of course, we've had some tight games, some ups and downs. To win the game against Wolves in the way we did was brilliant for the mood and the boost that gives us will take us into the new year with energy. Then again, the Leicester game, we felt we had done enough and then conceded, so that is football. It's about concentration and the fine margins are sometimes for you and sometimes against you, but I think we have come through this period with good results, good performances and players rotating, still feeling fit and fresh.”


How is the squad bearing up after the Wolves game?
“Yep, nothing extraordinary. I think everyone who was involved in that game will be fit and available.”

United v Villa: Solskjaer's matchday Q&AVideo

Mentally, as you mentioned a minute ago, a late goal gives you such a boost...
“Yeah, and we've done that a few times this season and it's a trait that I know this club is about, and one that we are putting more and more into this group of players as well. The belief, we can go back to the Southampton one and the way we won that game towards the end, and this one against Wolves, it gives you an extra edge towards the end of games. We know we have subs who can come on and we know whoever started the game will work their socks off until they are asked to come off, and then the new subs come on. It's a good position to be in, as a manager, to have players ready and champing at the bit because everyone is disappointed when they don't start.”


We end 2020 in second position and I know you are keen to play down talk of the title, but what is your take on the position and you must be very pleased?
“Well we had a difficult start to the season with the late arrival of some players and the start, that we missed the first game and we missed the pre-season. And I think we have shown after the second international break, the one in October, that we have regrouped, come together, we are getting fitter, stronger, the squad is getting better and we just have to take one game at a time, move up the table and improve as a team. But we have finished the year strong. I think we have done well since the beginning of February, or end of January, and we have proven to ourselves that we can be consistent over a longer period.”
Do you think it's important for this group of players to get the feeling of being in touch with the title?
“Of course, yeah. You know, when you are getting closer, that gives you a boost and it gives you extra focus. The good thing about this group is that some of them have won before so they are not going to get too far ahead of themselves. We know that the only way to do it is to take one game at a time. I know that is quite a boring statement, but that is the good thing about this group - they are not going to think we have cracked it because in any game in this league, you have got to be at it and that's why we have a big, strong squad.”


Just moving on to Villa, we've seen plenty of rotation in the last few games, so should we expect similar in this match?
“Yeah, we'll see how they react after the Wolverhampton game. Of course, it was a physically demanding game and mentally as well, but we came through it and, as you say, we haven't had the same team in every match, so every player should be fresh and more or less ready. Let’s see how they celebrate the turn of the year and how they turn up on New Year's Day in the morning!”

Ole's pre-Villa press conferenceVideo

What have you made of Villa's progress under Dean Smith, because they're arguably the most improved side in the Premier League?
“Definitely. You can see the improvement of results and also performances, how solid they are - they have conceded one goal in their last five league games and that was against Chelsea - so they have impressed me. We've met them in pre-season and of course we've kept in touch with them. I have been impressed but not surprised, because they have a squad and a team full of good players.”


We know all about Jack Grealish and there have been several other players who have impressed. Who has stood out to you?
“I think it is a team performance, of course, but they have made some very good signings. I think Ollie Watkins is one of the centre-forwards that you don't like to play against. At the moment, [Anwar] El Ghazi is the man in form and scoring every game. I think the whole front line is going to keep you on your toes and they are going to make you defend. Then they are very solid at the back and they are not going to concede goals, so we need a good performance and hopefully we will get one.”

Exclusive: Bruno's 2020 in his own wordsVideo

This is our first game of 2021, so what's the next step for this team?
“I think it is to keep on focusing on the next day, the next game, the next training session; do what you can to recover in-between games, come in and do your best every single day and then the performances will come. Performances will lead to results.”


Finally, we know how badly supporters are missing coming to games as the COVID crisis continues and especially as the team delivers such promising performances, so do you have a message for everyone watching?
“Yeah, of course, we can't wait and we're looking forward to everybody coming back to Old Trafford. In the meantime we're doing our best to keep you entertained. So keep supporting us and we know how much you want to come back to Old Trafford. We'll welcome you with open arms when you come back and we'll do our best until then.”

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