Victor Lindelof and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke to the media on Wednesday ahead of our Europa League quarter-final first-leg clash with Granada.
The Scandinavian pair were quizzed on a range of subjects from journalists, with the briefing once again being conducted via video link.
Meanwhile, Ole fielded questions surrounding the fitness of several first-team players, Granada’s strengths, the chances of Amad starting soon, and much more.
Here’s every word the duo said on Wednesday…
It’s a big match coming up, you’ve been involved in some frustrating cup exits in your time at United and how keen are you on making your mark in this competition?
“Obviously, we go into this game with the mentality to win it and to go through. You know, it’s a game where we want to go there and perform. We know it’s going to be a tough game. First and foremost, win the game so we can get a good result for the second leg. Obviously, every time you play in a competition you go in because you want to win it. Like you said, we haven’t quite been able to do that in the past but hopefully we can perform a bit better this season.”
The manager’s talked about you playing in some discomfort and about your back. A, I just wondered how that is and B, we talk about goalkeepers all the time at the moment, does it make any difference who plays behind you when you’ve got two good goalkeepers, like David [De Gea] and Dean [Henderson]?
“I feel very comfortable with both of them. I think every time they’ve played, they’ve performed at a very high level. We have great goalkeepers and I think that’s always good for a team, that you have that competition. My back, I’ve been having some problems with but I feel much better than I did before.
Harry played his 100th game for United against Brighton, how do you feel that partnership is coming together between you and Harry? And where do you feel you are with your game at the moment?
“I feel fine, we’ve been playing a lot of games together and the more you play together, the more you get to know each other as well. I think we’ve been performing well, keeping some good clean sheets as well against strong teams. I also feel like I’m performing well at the moment. I feel fine, I feel fresh and I’m just happy that I’m able to play and help the team.”
Is Marcus [Rashford] fit enough to start and, I’m sure this won’t be the first question you get on this, but who will be in goal for you tomorrow night?
“I can’t disclose the team now, of course, we’re not going to do that, but Marcus is travelling and we’ve just got to make a decision tomorrow if he starts or if he’s on the bench. I don’t think he’ll be a 90-minute man, so let’s see where he’s at tomorrow. And with the keepers, that’s the same. I’ve got two very, very good options and whoever plays will play well, I’m sure.”
Hi Ole, I was just wondering how tricky Granada are? United go in as favourites but that’s not uncommon, have you spoken to friends at Molde to talk about their strengths?
“I watched their games, of course, and I’ve spoken to some of them [friends at Molde], [who have given] some good insight and good info. Of course, we’ve analysed them ourselves and we’ve watched their last few games as well. It’s a team full of experience, unbelievable character and spirit, which you expect from teams that come up. They got promoted in ’18/19, great season [in] ’19/20 and this is the second season. I think they’re one of the teams in Euorpe that have played the most games and to do that at this level so early has been impressive and we know it’s going to be a battle.”
Amad scored his first goal in the last round against AC Milan. Is he any closer to his first start for the club?
“Yeah, of course he is. He’s getting more and more used to our expectations and standards, the training, the level of intensity in the games over here. He did well when he played 45 minutes against Milan, definitely a bright start and we’re gradually going to see him play more and more and a start might come now, it might come in a little while.”
When it comes to resting players, Ole, will this game give you a chance to rest some players and how do you decide when a player needs a rest?
“No matter who we’re playing against, we pick a team to win that one, that we feel is good enough to win that game. Of course this game is just the first half of the leg, there are two games and we’ve got league games coming up, big games as well. So that’s always a conundrum and always a thought process on who’s fit enough, who can last 90 times two-three-four-five on the bounce and who needs to have a rest in between to perform at the highest level. Everyone can do it, but [it’s about] in what way does it affect your performance for the next one. And we always have a check in the morning of the game for how everyone’s feeling.”
All set for Spain
The Reds made final preparations in Manchester, before flying out for our Europa League quarter-final.
Mason [Greenwood] scoring with his head [against Brighton] was a nice development, he said you’re working on it quite a lot. I know you mentioned [Edinson] Cavani, but how do you go about training someone’s heading?
“Well, I think if you look at players and you look at the news now and the issue with dementia and too much heading, I think kids nowadays train less heading than what we used to do. Also with the astroturf, the coaching is very on-the-ground dominated – [in] Norway, here, academies. You don’t see many [Cristiano] Ronaldo-like headers, you know from against Roma; one, two, three [seconds] hang up there, head, that’s a rare player now who’s got that skill. Mason’s goal was more of a poacher’s instinct, he made a sharp movement. It’s not like he hung in the air like a salmon. I was very pleased that he didn’t hit it and he scored. He’s practising from crosses but we’ve got loads of things to think about when you practice finishing. It’s not just about heading; it’s right foot, left foot, movement, all sorts, but Mason has improved his awareness, movement in and around the box and that’s also due to Edinson being at the club because he is one of the better ones to make those centre-forward movements.”
I’d like to ask the manager if he’s surprised that a team like Granada have got so far in the Europa League?
“No, not surprised at all. It’s unbelievable how much attitude, desire, team spirit, values, how much that can do for a team, for players. They’re very good at – and better than most – at the things that don’t cost anything which is just what I’m talking about. I mean that as a compliment. I think the value of team spirit, camaraderie, organisation is so important for a team. But then they also have the individual quality and experience in a few players that will have been very important for them. But in football you’re never surprised when teams that get promoted and do well, because they get promoted for a reason. It’s quality and the team spirit and morale in the squad, and the manager’s values.”
Have you got an update on Anthony Martial and Eric Bailly and, can I ask you, you’ve beaten two quite big clubs to get to this point, is complacency a concern going into this one?
“Eric is still in the Ivory Coast. He needs a negative test before he can come back, so we’re waiting for that one. Anthony has started his recovery and if we see him before the end of the season, I’ll be very surprised. But of course, he’s determined to come back as quick as he can because there are important games for us towards the end of the season and there’s also the Euros. He’s already come in, he’s bright around the place, disappointed he can’t help us now but, of course, he wants to work to get back as quickly as possible. Complacency? No. When you beat Real Sociedad and you beat AC Milan, you just get more the taste for it, and you know that you’ve beaten and you’ve jumped some very high hurdles and some very difficult opposition. Granada beating Napoli, going through the group and beating Molde last time is of course a sign of a team that has got quality. We have set our eyes, of course, to get to the final and improve on last season and we want to win this tournament.”
David has been the club’s no.1 for quite a long time, how did he take that news on Sunday that he wasn’t starting against Brighton and what does he have to do to get a regular place back at the weekend?
“I cannot prioritise the Premier League or Europa League. Every game here is the most important one; the next one is the most important one. Every time, I try to explain to players why they don’t play in this particular game, what they need to do and what my plans are with them… all those discussions remain private, of course. David has been a top, top keeper and is still a top, top keeper, and he’s working to be ready when he plays. If it’s Dean [or] David, I’m very comfortable with both of them to play and I’m very happy that none of them are happy to not play.”
Can you say whether Anthony Elanga will be involved tomorrow and a bit on his development?
“Anthony will be in the squad, he’ll be on the bench. He’s impressed when he’s been in training with us. He was very unlucky two or three months ago when he got a bad injury and he worked really hard to come back because he was just due to move into the first-team squad back then. He has got some X-factor, some attributes. It’s not like a gift, but the pace and acceleration and speed that he’s got that’s a given for wingers. When he’s got that speed, he’s always got qualities I like. He’s a goalscoring winger; he’s confident, he likes to beat men and can finish with his right foot and left foot and he’s got a great attitude. He has an appetite and hunger to improve and when he’s been training with us the last while he’s been here now, he’s not been phased by it. He’s confident; he’s not just here for experience, he’s ready to play a part if he has to.”
How important is this game for United? Could you say it’s possibly the biggest of the season?
“It’s very big for us, of course. You know the cliché that the next game is the most important? We have to live by that principle. Every player knows that if you get a chance to play in a quarter-final in Europe for Man United, this is a massive game and it’s an important game for you, and for me as well; I’m the manager and I know that. Of course, it’s just the first half in a two-legged affair, but it’s a big game for us. We have beaten Milan away, we have beaten Real Sociedad away, which have given us the foundations to go through, or we’ve drawn both of them at home in the second leg so we know how this game can give us even more momentum.”
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When you come up against a side like Granada in the Europa League that you might not know as much about as the teams you play in the Premier League week-in-week-out, is it quite a fun challenge for the coach?
“You watch Premier League games every weekend and you sit and enjoy it. You watch Match of the Day and you sit back and relax and you get a picture of the opposition and you only analyse really tight when you’re going to play against them. I have to say I hadn’t seen Granada too many times before Molde played them. But when Molde played them, I got interested because we might meet them. I watched them against Real Madrid and Barcelona – the big games – and I’ve been impressed by everything about them. They got promoted, had a fantastic season last season and this season you see they’re up there – they beat Napoli. You start to open your eyes a bit and you think you have an idea of what you might meet, but then you analyse them and it might be a little bit different. They’ve got some strengths that other teams don’t have; they’ve got an X-factor in many ways that you wouldn’t expect.”
With your two goalkeepers do you see a healthy dynamic and relationship in training, pushing each other? Is it a slightly different dynamic to say, Peter Schmeichel, who was always no.1?
“When you’re a part of Man United, players are always going to come in and they don’t just come to fill the bench or the squad. Everyone has ambition to take your shirt. I was there myself as a striker. We signed [Wayne] Rooney, Diego Forlan, Louis Saha, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham. The aim for me is to say to the manager, ‘I don’t mind you signing these, but I’m still important for you. I’m still gonna give everything I can to play’. It’s the same at right-back, left-back, centre-forward or goalkeeper. David has had 10 fantastic years at Man United, of course he has, and he’s had challenges. Sergio [Romero], he probably played less games than he deserved. Dean comes in and he also gives it his all and best because everybody wants that place in the team. David does as well. It’s a healthy competition, of course it is. The nature of football and the small goalkeeping departments [means] they’re a very tight-knit group. They work together in prep, they have different gym sessions, and so naturally they create a bond and the spirit of the goalkeeping department is top. But, as you say, it’s a healthy competition. All of them want to play, that’s the same with Lee Grant, Nathan Bishop, Sergio Romero – they want to play. So that’s a competition I like.”
Rashford looks like he’s played through pain sometimes this season and so, with his injury record and his back problem last season, are you worried about over-playing him?
“I don’t pick players when we know there’s a risk. Of course, there’s always a risk when you step onto the pitch when you play football. But if the physios and the medic advises that this is too much risk to play him, I would never, ever play a player if it’s gonna make it worse or if it’s a serious one. Marcus joined in training this morning so let’s see how he reacts. If there’s any risk of making it worse, I’m not going to overplay him. His back has recovered. He’s a tough one and he wants to play; he wants to give it his all for Manchester United. It’s also a responsibility for the player to tell us, as he did on Sunday, he said ‘well, it’s too sore, I’ve got to come off’.”