Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sets Manchester United 10-point Champions League target ahead of RB Leipzig clash
United manager also insists summer signing Van de Beek will have key role to play this season, despite limited playing time so far
‘The Pride of All Europe’ is one of the most popular Manchester United terrace chants and includes the line “We beat ’em at home and we beat ’em away”.
United are doing the former on a run of ten consecutive away victories, but while it’s 12 years since United were the pride of Europe and champions of the continent, United have also stopped beating teams at home.
The three games at Old Trafford so far this season have seen two defeats and Saturday’s draw against Chelsea, while the final two home league games of last season were also draws.
United are back at an empty Old Trafford on Wednesday for a Champions League game against Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig. Like United, who defeated Paris Saint-Germain in France, the Germans won last week in their opening group game against Istanbul Basaksehir 2-0 to start with three points.
“Ten points in the group stage should get you through and our aim is to get to ten points as quickly as possible,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who expects to have a full squad available.
That squad, according to midfielder Scott McTominay, is approaching full fitness after a minimal pre-season. “The games are a chance for us to get fit and now we’re starting to see proper fitness levels with everyone focused on getting in the team and staying there.”
Solskjaer describes this season as “exceptional … and we play a game every three days and we’ll do this relentlessly to the end of the season”. He is concerned by the risk of injury if his players are pushed too hard.
“We need to look after the boys. It’s going to be a long season. The depth of our squad is better now and to leave players out – Donny [van de Beek], Nemanja [Matic] and Paul [Pogba] in midfield in the last game, all of them experienced international footballers – it’s not easy, but we have so many games and they’re all going to play a big part in different periods of the season. The most successful teams have competition for places.”
Van de Beek, a £40 million ($52.2m) close season signing from Ajax, supposedly brought in for that very reason is yet to start a game, raising eyebrows.
“When players come into a new league and new team it’s always going to be a time to adapt,” is Solskjaer’s explanation. “When Donny has played, he has played really well. It says a lot about our depth of quality in the squad that we don’t have to use him in every game. We have other players as well. It also says a lot about our ambitions as we want to challenge for trophies this season.”
In a clear message to Van de Beek he said: “You don’t have to start the first three games to be a very important player in the squad. I would be disappointed if some of my teammates said I was not important at Man United but I didn’t start many games. Donnie is going to play a big part for us this season.”
What does Van de Beek think about all this? “Donny comes to training every day with a big smile on his face, wanting to work hard and impress everybody,” said McTominay. “I’m confident that he’ll be an important figure in this team and his arrival has lifted everybody along with Alex and Edinson. We saw the way Alex played in Paris and Donny coming off the bench and showing his ability.
“There’s no time to panic for Donny. People can be so quick to come to an assumption that he’s not playing. Give him time, Let him settle.”
Of United’s opponents RB Leipzig, who qualified after finishing third in the Bundesliga last season. Solskjaer said: “They have come up through the ranks very impressively and have almost improved every single season and got to the [Champions League] semi-final last season. They’re going for the big trophies.”
After losing out to PSG in the semi-final, the Germans are unbeaten in their nine opening games in all competitions with six wins and three draws.
His opposite number was full of compliments for manager Julian Nagelsmann. “He’s young, proactive and an interesting coach to watch. He’s adaptable with players who have high energy, high tempo and they’ve been interesting to follow in the last few years.
“The style is always there, they want to dominate, it’s high tempo and high pressure. We prepare for a difficult game against a team that can play in many different ways. Our focus is on ourselves.
“We have to give them problems and solve what problems they give us. It’s one of those coaches and teams where you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it’s live.”