Solskjaer sidesteps future questions ahead of blockbuster United games

By Sports Desk February 11, 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refused to entertain questions over his long-term ambitions at Manchester United on the eve of what could prove to be a defining period of his tenure.

Solskjaer has led United to 10 victories in 11 unbeaten matches under his management since succeeding Jose Mourinho until the end of this season.

Paris Saint-Germain visit Old Trafford in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday, with a trip to Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup and a Premier League home match versus title-chasing Liverpool to come before the end of the month.

Success in those fixtures would be seen by many as a water-tight case for Solskjaer to become United manager on a permanent basis, but he told a pre-match news conference he does not view the matter in such straightforward terms.

"Yes, it's too simple [to say that]," he said, a chuckle belying an apparent weariness over the topic.

"You need to change the script now. There's still a few more months left of this season to do whatever we need to do."

Solskjaer was contrastingly enthused when addressing the type of fixture he typically revelled in during his playing days under Alex Ferguson.

"The supporters and players have been looking forward to these nights because they are special," he said. "My last one was when we beat Roma 7-1 [in 2007]. I came on. It was a typical Old Trafford night.

"We lost 2-1 away from home but the manager was so happy. He was so confident in our ability. We just want to go into this game confident and raise our game."

Edinson Cavani is expected to join Neymar on the sidelines for PSG, heightening the sense of a tie very much in the balance.

Nevertheless, Solskjaer believes Thomas Tuchel's men now possess an element of surprise and represent a stern test to his in-form side.

"Of course any team that are missing players like Neymar, Cavani and [Thomas] Meunier will feel the effect," he added.

"But that gives the other players a chance. It makes it more unpredictable for us [to know] who they are going to play.

"When you see them over the season you know what to expect. This time around we are guessing a little bit how they are going to come and play.

"But we've got a good guesstimate on how they are approaching this game."

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    Liverpool will attempt to become the second team to beat Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday following Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League victory at Old Trafford.

    A composed 2-0 win, featuring goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe for the Ligue 1 giants, won the admiration of Jurgen Klopp.

    But the Liverpool boss is unsure to what extent the circumstances of that game can be replicated after United were derailed mid-match by injuries to influential attackers Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial – both of whom are in line to return as Klopp's men aim to avoid defeat and return to the top of the Premier League.

    "Result-wise [PSG] were the only team, but Tottenham played a pretty good game against United to be honest," he told a news conference, referencing United's 1-0 win at Wembley where goalkeeper David de Gea excelled.

    "PSG were pretty cool with the ball, passed a lot, they were really confident, good positioning, passing through the lines and scoring in the right moment."

    United returned to winning ways with a superb 2-0 triumph at Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday.

    Klopp felt that showed how much the injuries to Lingard and Martial hindered Solskjaer when he was forced into changes on the run, in contrast to the smoothly operating game plan he put together for the trip to Stamford Bridge.

    “You saw against Chelsea that United could play pretty well without Lingard and Martial. That was a proper line-up with [Juan] Mata and [Romelu] Lukaku coming in.

    "But changing in the game is different and you cannot really adapt. They played the last six or seven games before that with the same line-up and then they had to adapt in 15 minutes, and it didn't really work out.

    "PSG used that, it was a bit of luck for PSG but they played a really good game. They were very demanding, looked in charge in most situations and didn't give a lot of counter-attacks away, which is a very big thing against United.

    "Whichever line-up they have, whoever they play will attack quickly on the offensive wings. You need to be 100 per cent concentrated, and PSG did well, scored good goals in the right moments and that always helps in football."

    Klopp will welcome back Virgil van Dijk after his star centre-back sat out Tuesday's 0-0 draw at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League through suspension.

    Fellow defenders Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez remain sidelined, but the former Borussia Dortmund boss reported fitness concerns are decreasing elsewhere in his squad ahead of a pivotal period in the season.

    "Dejan is not in, Joe is not in, and I think pretty much all the rest are in training," he added.

    "Rhian Brewster is only in little parts, Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] is in bigger parts but not ready to play. The rest should be.

    "Usually now I get a message that somebody is ill, so I am a bit nervous about that, but until now I didn't hear anything!"

  • AEK Athens handed suspended European competition ban AEK Athens handed suspended European competition ban

    AEK Athens have been hit with a one-season ban from European competition after fan violence in a Champions League game against Ajax, but UEFA has suspended the punishment for two years.

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    Some images showed flames erupting on the terrace and riot police were also seen striking Ajax fans, some of whom were left with bloodied faces.

    AEK were charged by UEFA following the game and the organisation's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body announced the Greek club's punishment on Friday.

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    Ajax were also charged by UEFA after the game but proceedings against the Dutch club have now been closed.

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    "Our club apologised publicly and immediately, and recognised its part of responsibility about what happened," said a club statement in response to UEFA's punishment.

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  • No doubt Solskjaer will get United job - Klopp No doubt Solskjaer will get United job - Klopp

    Jurgen Klopp feels it is "not possible" for Manchester United to appoint anyone but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as their next manager.

    Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Sunday aiming to return to the top of the Premier League, but will face a United side revitalised under Solskjaer.

    Defeat at Anfield in December proved the final act of Jose Mourinho's tenure and the Red Devils have won 11 games out of 13 in all competitions under caretaker boss Solskjaer.

    Following such a scintillating run of form, which has fired United into the FA Cup quarter-finals and right back into the fight for a top-four finish in the Premier League, Klopp believes any alternative long-term appointment would be on a hiding to nothing.

    "Now there is no doubt that he will be the manager next year as well," he told a pre-match news conference.

    "Can you imagine a situation where they bring in a new manager and the new manager loses one game? That is, of course, not possible.

    "He deserves that 100 per cent. He done everything that you have to do to be successful with them."

    Klopp was keen to stress he meant no disrespect to Mourinho when observing United made a necessary change after a humbling loss on Merseyside.

    "The way they play is obviously different now," he said. "You will probably make a story of it that it sounds like [being] disrespectful to Jose Mourinho and there is no need for that because he is an outstanding manager.

    "It looked like, in the end, they had a difficult time together and they found a solution for them, how they want to improve that situation and it obviously worked out.

    "Since Ole was there, pretty much everything has changed."

    One change that certainly has not escaped Klopp's attention is Paul Pogba's stunning return to form.

    "We see the Pogba that Manchester United signed a couple of years ago. The guy is in outstanding shape," he said.

    "All the offensive players who were there, they were good before but they are full of confidence and use all their potential. It makes a big difference.

    "That's how it is. Sometimes you need to make changes and often in football it's the manager. Sometimes it helps and in this case obviously it helped.

    "It's a different side, a different style but it's still United. They have all different ways in their tool box to get results.

    "They can defend deep, they can use high pressure in different moments. All that stuff is there, it's all good."

    Klopp sees parallels between his own move from Mainz for a defining spell at Borussia Dortmund and Solskjaer's switch from Molde in his native Norway to prove his credentials in elite-level coaching.

    "Of course, he has shown he belongs at this level, it's clear. We all need luck in our managerial career," he added.

    "When I went from Mainz to Dortmund people said I had no international experience.

    "It was true but it's not something you can buy, you have to make it. If Ole is not a former player of Manchester United he would not get the move from Norway, that's clear.

    "But if you get the chance you have to use it. He's shown everything that you need together with his coaches. They made a few smart decisions and it worked out."

    "I am really happy for him that he got the opportunity to show his quality. It's not the best news for us, obviously. For all Man United fans, it's obviously brilliant."

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