Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking forward to managing his 100th Premier League game for Manchester United at Molineux on Sunday afternoon, but the boss insists he is only focused on looking forward to what this squad can achieve rather than back.
The boss believes the current group of players he has is the strongest under his management and he’s hoping to see the Reds build on four points from six from our opening two games, against Wolves later (KO 16:30 BST).
During Stewart Gardner’s exclusive chat with Ole, he gave his reaction to the Champions League draw, provided an update on injured players and also looked ahead to facing Wolves…
Ole, first of all, a word on the Champions League draw – Villarreal, Atalanta and Young Boys?
“Some reunions of course. We all remember the last time we played against Villarreal. I don’t know how many times we’ve played them in the Champions League now, a few times and every one has been a draw. The final is the only game we’ve had goals in so hopefully we can get better games and get that over the line and learn from the final. We played Young Boys not too long ago in the Champions League, before my time. It was an Astro-turf pitch of course. They’ve laid a new one and I remember the players spoke about it saying it wasn’t the best, but there is a new one now. Atalanta is a new experience for us. It’s a team we’ve followed of course through Amad and a couple of other things. The way they play with the high press and intensity and Gian Piero Gasperini is a manager you have a lot of respect for and of course for Unai [Emery] and David Wagner. It’s a good group and I can’t wait – the Champions League is the best.”
Is there extra motivation after last year when we had a brilliant start in the Champions League, but sadly it didn’t work out in the end?
“Definitely. You always get that poke when you don’t manage to win or go through. Every disappointment pokes me and there is that desire and determination to show we can go through, then it’s anyone’s game really because there are so many good teams.”
Talking of the group stages I just wanted to point out that you scored 15 times in them…
“From about three starts?! [laughs] [In terms of memorable games] we had a few against Barcelona in 98/99 when we had Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Brondby in our group, but I didn’t play too many of them. The Barcelona game at home I started when we drew 3-3, that was a fantastic game to be part of.”
Looking at the team news for Sunday, we know obviously that Scott is out…
“Scott has had surgery and he couldn’t carry on. We tried to manage it and get him through without surgery but we couldn’t and in the end it was too sore for him. By the end of the Southampton game when he came on that was the decision made. Marcus [Rashford] of course is still rehabbing. He’s out on the grass running so that looks good, but he’s still a few weeks away from training with the team. Alex [Telles] is working hard and Dean [Henderson] has started on the grass after the effect of COVID so we’ve got them four that we’re trying to get back.”
With Scott it didn’t sound like it was massively serious…
“I think you can see by the pre-season he had that he played 20 minutes as a centre-back. We tried to manage him and he worked really hard to get fit without surgery, but it wasn’t possible in the end.”
There’s been another week’s training for Edinson Cavani too…
“Yes. Every week is important early on, every training session is important. It’s like last season we had Carabao Cup games early on and everyone got game-time. Now it’s difficult with 7/8 days in between. You still want to spread it around a little bit and get the squad going because we know we need everyone, but it’s not as easy as that. So training has been important and it’s been good.”
And there’s been another week for the new lads to get used to things as well…
“Yes both Raphael [Varane] and Jadon [Sancho] have had a little bit of a delayed start to their pre-season with illness for Jadon and waiting for the visa and the quarantine for Rapha, but they’ve trained well this week.”
You said you were maybe open to a loan for Amad but it had to be the right loan – do you expect anything to happen?
“Yes I do. It’s not 100 per cent signed but we’ve agreed. I don’t have to say which team it is yet [smiles] but we’ve found a place that Amad feels excited about and we feel excited about.”
Games against Wolves always seem to be tight 1-0, 0-0 games – what’s your view on them?
“I don’t know how many games I’ve managed against Wolves but there’s often only been one goal in it, if any. There have been loads of draws and a one-goal win for either team. With Bruno [Lage] coming in you can see his way of playing, he’s not changed a lot, maybe a bit more progressive and more aggressive, but they still stick to the same principles as before so it’ll be a team that many have seen before.”
This is your 100th Premier League team in charge of United – does it feel like that?
“I got asked just before and I just don’t think back, I don’t think that way. I was surprised when I was told it was 100, it could have been 50 or 150. You don’t get time to sit back and think about it and look at your stats or whatever, you just think about the next game. Of course we feel we’re improving layer by layer and the squad is now as strong as it has been in my time here.”
The international break is coming up. In these couple of weeks, do you have specific plans – will players be given time off or will there be possible games?
“You train. There might be a behind-closed-doors game again. It’s time to give them some time off as well, the ones who don’t go on internationals because most of them have done the whole pre-season so they’ve been working diligently and have been terrific. Some of them, when you’re an international, then it means you’re playing well. The ones who don’t have internationals will get the break and they deserve a few days off definitely, then we go again on the Monday. We’ll have the start of the week training then give them a long weekend off.”