Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking forward to getting back under way after a ‘different’ and ‘strange’ pre-season.
The boss spoke to MUTV ahead of today’s friendly at Aston Villa, which is the only match the Reds will play to prepare for the new Premier League campaign.
As well as giving some insight into his squad plans for the game in the West Midlands, Solskjaer elaborated on how Donny van de Beek is fitting into the group and also spoke about Harry Maguire and the transfer window.
Here is the full Questions and Answers ….
How excited are you to be on the verge of another season in charge of this football club?
“Very. Of course, now has been a different pre-season and a different summer but it’s been a quick turnaround and we’re excited, of course. We’ve had a few weeks away from each other but then we’ve started again.”
Given how the team developed under you and the coaching staff’s guidance, how happy are you with the progress and how close are we to challenging for the very top honours again?
“I’m happy with the way we improved and we developed. Of course, after the January transfer window, we lost two important games in two semi-finals but they were the two defeats we had. Of course, those hurt, they really hurt, but the way the team caught up how many points? Fourteen points was it to catch up with the top four, we managed to do that and it gives us a very good belief that we can kick on, move forward and improve again.”
You’ve definitely managed to improve players’ performances. On the players’ turnaround, we’ve seen Donny arrive. How has he settled into the group?
“He’s been training only a couple of days but he’s a bright, bubbly character. He wants to learn and the first few signs are positive, not that I doubted that one because I’ve followed him for a few years, of course. He’s been a talented youngster and now we felt he was ready to come here. He felt it was the best place to come so, for us, it’s a good transfer.”
It’s a really good bit of business. How do you see the rest of the window given how the market is shaping up?
“It’s been a strange time and a strange world. Financially, I’m sure loads of clubs have suffered. It looks like it as there has not been a lot of activity in the window. We’re always looking to improve the squad, scouting players and, if something fits, both the financial bit and the football bit, of course we’ll try to make some business. But we can’t know how the markets and how other clubs have been affected either.”
Harry Maguire had a difficult summer with what happened in Greece. How is he and what’s your thinking towards him for the new season?
“Of course, Harry, as you said, had a difficult summer. He didn’t have a long break. His break was different to others as we gave him a few more days and, after, he’s come back and looked fine. He’s handled it really well and, of course, I’ll be here to support him. He is going to be our captain. We’ll just leave Harry and his people and the process to run. For me, he is a top, an absolute top human being and has always been a positive guy with the right values. So I really hope we can see Harry performing at his best.”
Paul Pogba has had a difficult time as well, after testing positive for coronavirus. How is he and how likely is he to be fit for Palace?
“Paul’s had a couple of training sessions so he’s lost out on a few sessions because of the virus, of course. But Paul is quick to get fit. Of course, he worked really hard to get back after lockdown last time and played the majority of the games. Hopefully, he’ll be ready for next weekend. I am not 100 per cent sure though.”
Hopefully, Paul will be fit but what about the players who missed the tail-end of last season – what’s the latest on the injury front?
“For me, Luke is looking really good in training. He has come back, looking strong, and will play in the friendly against Villa. Then Axel is getting closer as well. In a few weeks’ time, I guess he will be with us training full-time and hopefully we’ll be able to give him games quickly.”
How important is the Villa game going to be for your preparations?
“It’s going to be a game to give players minutes. Some have trained more than others and some will be more ready than others. Some played international games, which actually sometimes you think you don’t really want that but some of them have got valuable minutes there. We’ll give the others minutes against Villa so they can all start on a decent level because it’s going to be a long season. The result is not going to matter at all, the performance and fitness work are going to be important.”
It’s strange not to have the usual amount of pre-season games to go through tactics and minutes on the pitch. It’s been an unusual pre-season…
“Then again, it’s the world we live in. That’s the reality of it, no point arguing or discussing it or being miserable or moaning about it. This is the reality. We’re going to make the most of it. Of course, the first few games are going to be important to give as many players minutes as well because it’s such a long season. We’re going to need most of them throughout the season.”
It’s an interesting calendar isn’t it? We start a week after most teams but we’re all hoping fans will be back soon. How much are you missing that magical atmosphere?
“We miss it. We thought the time was getting closer but you follow the news and the trends and I just hope that the world will be closer to normal soon. But that’s what the government and the authorities have to decide, when we can get the majority of the fans back because they are the best and we’ve missed them at Old Trafford, definitely.”
Finally, what do you say to the fans all over the world who can’t get to the ground but watch it all on TV?
“Well, thanks for your support so far. We know they’re there with us. We’re going to keep on improving and hopefully, next time they come back to Old Trafford, they’ll have got a team to support that they really like.”