Mason Greenwood (Getty Images)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to make the most of these
strange circumstances and lift the Europa League at the end of a competition
that has provided the “perfect” platform for Manchester United’s
After trips to Holland, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Belgium and
Austria, the Red Devils have arrived in Germany searching for continental
silverware in a new-look final-eight tournament.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, empty stadiums will
play host to single-leg ties in a frantic period in North Rhine-Westphalia,
where United kick off the mini-tournament with a quarter-final against FC
Copenhagen in Cologne on Monday evening.
The United squad will have to stay in a bubble as long as
they remain in the competition, with Solskjaer hoping they can go all the way
to the final on August 21.
“I think it is strange and it is not football as it
should be – I think it’s changed a little bit,” said the United boss, who
did his study visit with Copenhagen counterpart Stale Solbakken when doing his
pro licence in 2011.
“That little bit of passion and edge to the game is
missing because the fans have got to be there.
“But I have to commend our players. They’ve handled the
situation really well and I know our fans can’t wait to get back to Old
Trafford and support us.
“We’ll just have to try to make the most of this Europa
League now and hopefully get as far as we can, so they are looking forward even
more to seeing the players.”
Solskjaer’s determination to win his first trophy as manager
is clear, but United’s third-placed Premier League finish and subsequent
Champions League qualification has slightly eased the pressure.
And, while every season away from European football’s top
table is a gut punch for the Old Trafford giants, Solskjaer believes this
Europa League campaign has aided his side’s development.
“We went into this season knowing that Europa League is
a great chance for us one to get a trophy, to get far in a tournament,”
“But also, to groom a few of the youngsters and it was
perfect for us.
“I think if we’d been in the Champions League this
season – of course we all want to be the Champions League – I probably or maybe
wouldn’t have had the chance to play the likes of Brandon (Williams) as much as
we have, Mason (Greenwood) – so many of the young kids who have now started
what’s going to be fantastic careers.
“The Europa League has also been about that as well.
“It’s about keeping the squad together, have a group
that is working together and giving people chances. When they take them –
Brandon is going to play in a quarter-final in the Europa League.
“It’s a great achievement for him this season and it’s
a perfect for us.”
Williams will start with Luke Shaw absent through injury,
while Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are the only other first-team players
Solskjaer has a decision to make when it comes to
goalkeeper, with Sergio Romero tending to play in this competition instead of
first choice David De Gea.
Longer term there is another headache to deal with given how
Dean Henderson has shone on loan at Sheffield United.
“That’s an obvious question because I think I must be
the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department,”
“We’ve got Sergio, David and we’ve got Dean Henderson
as well coming back, so you’ve got three top, top keepers.
“This season has shown again how important Sergio has
been for us and, for me, also David’s been always performing there.
“So, we’ll see what we do for the rest of the season
and going forward.
“Difficult, yeah, of course it is. But that’s a nice
problem to have.”
Another positive is the happiness of Paul Pogba, who on this
day in 2016 returned to Old Trafford from Juventus in a then world-record deal.
“I’ve answered numerous questions on Paul,”
Solskjaer said. “We’re delighted he’s back playing; he’s fit, he’s enjoying
his football. Of course, he’s got to make up for lost time and he is trying to
“He is training extra. He’s always a great personality
in and around the place, and hopefully we can see him lift this trophy that
he’s done before.
“He’s professional, he’s a fantastic boy and I’m
delighted that we’ve got him in the team.”