Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eager for ‘fitter, more robust’ Man United to take on Premier League

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Sir Alex Ferguson transformed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer into a winner, and the current Manchester United manager intends to do the same with his players during his rebuilding process.

Jose Mourinho’s tempestuous spell in the dugout ended in December, when the Old Trafford hierarchy finally grew tired of background backbiting and on-field problems.

Solskjaer, a 1999 treble hero, was the surprise appointment as caretaker manager but his record-breaking temporary stint earned him a permanent chance to shine in his dream job.

After landing that three-year deal, Solksjaer’s tenure then went awry, yet reflection and countless discussions have allowed him to “come up with a plan”.

“We talked about what is expected, what is required, the standards, what we have to do every single day,” Solskjaer said during his most in-depth interview as United manager to date.

“The little margins that get you wins. The little tactical tweaks. It is great being a group together from day one.

“We know the plan, and this is the way we are going to do it. We have agreed to that. The first couple of weeks have been encouraging.

“Of course, you always expect people to come in for the first couple of weeks with fresh energy and focus.

“They have not moaned – maybe that is a bad thing. Maybe we have not worked them enough.

“But I think we have just worked enough so we are fitter and maybe more robust when the season starts.”

On the patience required from fans, he said: “Well, you’ve got to be patient, you have to know that to build a team and rebuild a squad, it will take time.

“I am not going to ask for too much time because as the manager you’re also under pressure to get results straight away.

“Or maybe not results but maybe the way we want to play football, so I hope with the way we approach the games now, the fans will see what we’re trying to do, and the results will come.”

Solskjaer admits United did not have enough energy “mentally or physically” during a jarring end to the campaign.

Fighting for Europa League glory and pushing beyond fourth are targets next season as they look to move along a path back to the top – a place they were accustomed to until Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

Solskjaer laughed when asked if he gets bored of questions about his former manager, maybe because he is aware of the Scot’s impact on his personality and style.

“I think after having to work for him for 14-and-a-half years – 11 as a player, three-and-a-half as a coach – it’s natural that I’ve learned from Sir Alex,” said the former striker.

“The biggest part of my football career I’ve spent under him.

“I’ve been transformed more or less from the day I went from Molde to the day I left Man United, as a person, as a winner. He’s installed that into many of his players.

“Now, of course, I speak to him after the game. I go up to his lounge. I think what has been written and said, loads of things, are not true.

“He’s been to the training ground twice since I’ve been there, so it’s not a lot he could manage to do with the boys those two days!”

Put to him that sometimes it is made to sound like Ferguson is with him every day, Solskjaer said with a laugh: “That wouldn’t be fair on him, would it?

“He’s at a different stage of his life now and it’s great to speak to him after the games and to see him so fit and healthy and well.

“And of course we send texts to each other when we don’t meet. He answers me, my texts, every time I ask him for something. He asks me for a few favours and it’s great.”

You can certainly see many of Ferguson’s traits in Solskjaer, with discipline key among them.

Those expectations extend to behaviour away from the field and social media, something that reared its head when Jesse Lingard posted some ill-advised videos during the summer.

“That is what you sign up for at this club,” Solskjaer said. “You are always under the spotlight.

“I am a big believer in self-discipline and discipline within the group. I would never have made it as a footballer if I didn’t have that discipline and made the most out of my talent.

“The day you are not at Man United you realise you should have done this or that.

“I know I should have asked the gaffer to be taken off against Wolverhampton when (Cristiano) Ronaldo was running down the wing.

“But I was stubborn enough to say, ‘I want to show Ronaldo that I am up to it’.

“That decision changed my life because I got injured when I shouldn’t have.

“That is the one piece of discipline I didn’t have.”

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Marcus Rashford to become Man United's leading man and a case for the defence

Matt Jones 16/07/2019
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Manchester United take on old rivals Leeds United in their second pre-season fixture in Perth on Wednesday (GST 15:00).

The Red Devils started their tour Down Under on a high with a 2-0 win over A-League side Perth Glory on Saturday – Marcus Rashford and James Garner scoring fine second-half goals to rubber stamp a routine victory.

There were also encouraging performances from new signings Dan James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, as well as youngsters Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes.

Despite being pre-season there is unlikely to be anything friendly about this fixture between two historic rivals.

TOO RASH TO JUDGE

rashford

Considering he’s a home-grown product, Marcus Rashford could be forgiven for harbouring thoughts of a move away from Old Trafford before signing his bumper new contract this summer.

The Wythenshawe wonderboy memorably burst onto the scene against Midtjylland in the Europa League in February 2016, yet because he hasn’t transitioned into Kylian Mbappe in the ensuing three years, United fans are very much undecided about which side of the fence they stand on with him.

Forty five goals in 170 United appearances is not bad, but not brilliant either. But he’s still only 21. He has more senior goals than both Alan Shearer and Andy Cole at his age and has reportedly been told by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he will be United’s first-choice striker this season.

When you’ve got £75 million of talent waiting in the wings in Romelu Lukaku, that’s encouraging. Rashford does have to make that next step at some point and showing confidence in him is the way to coax him into it.

He came off the bench in the pre-season opener against Perth Glory and scored with a crisp left-footed shot. He should get the nod to lead the line against Leeds.

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

harry maguire

Victor Lindelof is set to make his first appearance of pre-season on Wednesday and that could give United a glimpse of their future.

Solskjaer has already confirmed David De Gea will start after Sergio Romero and Joel Pereira shared the custodial duties against Perth, and new signing Wan-Bissaka is likely to start at right-back having impressed on his debut in the second half.

United are said to be very close to signing Harry Maguire from Leicester and a back four of him, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw for 2019/20 suddenly transforms United’s defence exponentially.

Shaw is unlikely to be risked after coming off against Glory with a hamstring injury so Diogo Dalot could start on the left, while promising Axel Tuanzebe – who shone on loan as he helped get Aston Villa promoted back to the Premier League last term – could be given a start alongside Lindelof.

After years of profligacy, United’s defence all of a sudden seemingly has plenty of potential.

WAR OF THE ROSES

Eric Cantona of Manchester United

United and Liverpool are the bitterest of rivals, while Manchester City’s rise has also seen that feud fire back into life in the last decade, while in the early Premier League years, it was Arsenal and the Red Devils always battling for supremacy.

Some newer or fair weather United fans may know nothing of the bitter rivalry that exists between them and Wedensday’s opponents from across the Pennines.

They both carry the name United, but there is no element of togetherness about the relationship between both sets of fans. From the strong enmity that has long existed between the historic counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire to Eric Cantona’s bitter move to Old Trafford from Elland Road in November 1992, there is no love lost.

Solskajer even alluded to the rivalry in his pre-match press conference when he said: “If you make the effort to come here and support your team, football is the reason you are here.”

It was in response to fears of disorder as there have been a couple of stand-offs between small groups of supporters in different locations in the Australian city, but no actual clashes.

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Victor Lindelof happy at Man United and rules out summer departure

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Victor Lindelof has reaffirmed his commitment to Manchester United after the defender’s agent raised doubts about his future.

Having endured a difficult first season at Old Trafford following his arrival from Benfica in 2017, the 24-year-old’s impressive, consistent performances saw him finish runner-up in the club’s Player of the Year vote for 2018-19.

Lindelof’s form led to reported interest from Barcelona and agent Hasan Cetinkaya said his client “is in the orbit of a great European club, but leaving United depends on the English club”.

But at a time when the future of several big names is up in the air, the Sweden international appeared to rule out a summer departure.

“I’m very, very happy to be a Manchester United player,” Lindelof said in Perth.

“I’m excited for the new season to start. That’s my answer. I’m very happy here.”

Lindelof is set to make his first pre-season appearance against Leeds on Wednesday as the centre-back looks to build on an impressive campaign.

“It’s my third season here now, I’ve been through it,” he added. “I know what it is to sign for this club and to play for it, and of course to get a little bit of criticism sometimes. That’s part of the game.”

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