You aren’t prepared for kick-off until you’ve read Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s press-conference transcript, to preview Manchester United’s Premier League match against Crystal Palace. The manager sat down to speak with reporters on Wednesday morning – digitally, of course – ahead of the squad travelling south for Selhurst Park, where kick-off is scheduled for 20:15 BST on Thursday night.
As you will read below, Solskjaer began by reacting to Marcus Rashford’s latest honour before providing an injury update on our two left-backs, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams.
There is also plenty of chat about Anthony Martial, the team’s form and Palace manager Roy Hodgson, as well as a big announcement this week from UEFA. Get stuck in now…
We’ve had this news about Marcus Rashford, getting a doctorate from The University of Manchester. What’s your view of that?
“I get the gist of your question, you were breaking up there, but you know, we’re so proud of Marcus and I’ve said it a few times, what a great person he is, a great human being. He cares about so much more than himself and the work he’s done it just shows that he cares so much about others than himself. So I’m very proud of him and hopefully he’ll keep his personality for the rest of his life, just keep on being yourself.”
On the pitch, what’s the situation at left back? What’s the problem with Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams and will either of them be fit for tomorrow?
“Luke has got a swollen ankle, so hopefully I’ll give him as much time as possible to recover – it was a twist on his ankle. Brandon’s eye, he cut up his eye there, so I don’t really know. We’ve not trained this morning, none of them trained yesterday, so they were both swollen and I’ll give them as much time as possible to get ready.”
You’ve obviously named the same starting line-up for a number of Premier League games now. With those slight knocks and Chelsea coming up this weekend, another big game, is this a chance to freshen up the team, do you think?
“The team selection for Thursday is based on Thursday, not on Sunday. Sunday is irrelevant, it doesn’t come into my head at all. It’s just Thursday, so we’ll see. The injury situation, there were a couple of doubts before the Southampton one, but they all reported fit on the day. And hopefully we can give them time now and not having to leave players out because of injury, but as you say, there might be one or two fresh legs coming in.”
How have the players responded to probably the first setback since the end of lockdown and is the message to the players, ahead of Palace, that this is a must win, just to keep on the tails of the other teams?
“Keep on doing what we have been doing. Just trust ourselves, trust yourself. You’re at a club where it always boils down to the last couple of weeks or two or three games in the season anyway, so we’ve done fantastic since we restarted. We started with a draw against Tottenham of course, but then had a great run. Now that little bit of a setback is a test for mentalities.”
Ole, how much do you admire Roy Hodgson for still having the passion to manage at the age of 72? Can you see yourself doing the same?
“Unbelievable. I do admire him a lot, because there are two things that must have happened there. One, you must be good at what you’re doing and two, you must like what you’re doing and Roy has shown us all, the young brigade, what it takes to be at the top. He’s worked, he’s been in Sweden, Finland; he’s been in Norway, Denmark; he’s been at England, he’s had Liverpool, he’s had Inter, he’s had so many top clubs and he still looks very young and fresh, so I admire him a lot. And he’s great to talk to, because you get those little golden nuggets when you discuss [things] with managers with that experience.”
Martial and Rashford both have 21 goals and eight assists and they say there’s no competition between them, but just how helpful can it be as a forward to have that momentum and be pushed on by a team-mate like that?
“It’s great when you’re a striker, scoring goals, feeling on top of your game, feeling fit, strong. Both of them are fit and strong. Mason [Greenwood] as well, he’s coming into the frame, he’s not looked back since the restart and it’s been fantastic to see them in the training ground as well. And the way they look for each other. It’s like, is he in the better position or am I going to finish? They’re all team players and it’s been very positive.”
A lot of people have said a lot of things about Manchester City and the CAS ruling. On the pitch, you know of course that means top four, not top five, but I just wanted your thoughts about what’s happened and where we are with Financial Fair Play going forward…
“Well, I think other people can debate that and will want to debate that. I don’t think that’s my job. My job is to make sure we focus on the next game and that we just do the right things. Financial Fair Play, I think it was brought in to keep football and football clubs financially sustainable and I think that’s important, and they also give us rules to adhere to. So, that’s what we’re focusing on and let other people discuss what’s right and wrong and what’s happened.”
I just want to take you back to the Palace game at Old Trafford, because you’d had such a strong pre-season and then you had a defeat at Old Trafford. I’m just wondering, after that game, did you think blimey, we’ve got a mountain to climb this season and whether you’ve been surprised that it hasn’t been as tall a mountain as it was seen back then?
“Well we’ve come a long way in this season. I think we’ve hurried this process up by quite a distance with what we’ve done since we started this season. Then again, that result was a freak result. I don’t think that would happen again if we played the same game, but you have to respect teams with the quality that they have. They’re well organised, Roy always sets his team up very, very structured and organised and he’s got individuals who can win games for him. Both at the front but also [Patrick] van Aanholt, who scored against us. He’s scored a few goals over his career.”
We saw Anthony Martial score his 50th Premier League goal the other night. Do you expect him now to double up and reach 100 and potentially get his last 50 quicker than the first 50?
“He’s definitely developing, improving and he’s enjoying his football. He’s stepped it up this season I feel, both as an individual, but more so as a team player and physically. I remember there was talks about our forwards last season being the least active and there was some stats flying around, but Anto is now working really hard for the team, pressing from the front and he is a quality, quality finisher.”
This United team that we’re seeing now, do you think that’s the best side you’ve seen since Sir Alex Ferguson was the manager?
“I don’t think that’s my job to say if that’s the best team, but, of course, we’ve played some good football, some enjoyable football. Now it’s about consistency. We know we’re privileged to play for this great club and represent this great club. There’s a certain expectation on how we should play football and we’re getting closer and closer to that type of team.”
You’ve touched on the strikers. What’s your assessment of your defence since the restart?
“Well, I think we’ve had a couple of things against teams that have shown that we’re improving all the time. I think we can defend well at times. When you say defence, I look at the whole XI that’s playing, because we start pressing from the front. Of course, there are not many teams that have created chances against us since the restart. We’ve pressed high, started with Anthony and Marcus, Mason, Bruno [Fernandes], fantastic energy up there. Then at the back end, you have David [De Gea], who had a fantastic save the other day. It’s a different type of game for him now, he doesn’t have so much do than he’s had over the last few seasons, and I see the improvement all the time. Of course, we’re disappointed that we conceded a late goal in the last seconds against Southampton, but that happens. Brandon was off, we played with 10 men, Southampton have got players who are seven-feet tall, a great delivery by [James] Ward-Prowse. Of course, we should have defended better, we’re disappointed in it, but I’m very, very pleased with the development in the whole team.”