Manchester United face Leeds United in the Premier League for the first time in 16 years on Sunday afternoon. It sees a rivalry reignited and the resumption of the Yorkshire -v- Lancashire battle. Without supporters it will not quite be the same as an event but still the reunion will have ramifications on the table.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, reminisced back to his playing days when he faced the Yorkshire side and looked ahead to this weekends match when he spoke to reporters.
A rivaly reignited
Solskjaer played against Leeds during his 11-year spell as a player at United and has been longing for a return of the Yorkshire club to the top-flight and is relishing the chance of facing Leeds and their infamous coach.
“I can’t wait. It’s been too long,” Solskjaer said. “I know how much it means for our supporters and how much it means for our club. It’s a different type of Leeds coming up with a coach that has done a really great job and will test us to the limit.
“There were fiery games, tackles flying in, and players on both sides who were winners. Elland Road wasn’t the quietest place when we used to get off the coach and walk into the stadium.
“I enjoyed scoring two goals in a win at Elland Road. It was a cross from Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] I think and I headed it back across to the other side of the goal. They were two good teams back in the day. I liked the build up and the quality we had.”
Cavani charged by FA
United’s Uruguayan striker, Edinson Cavani, has been charged by the FA after posting a message on social media last month that could have been interpreted as racist. Solskjaer confirmed that manager and player had spoke following the judgment and hope that it is now in the past.
“We have spoke to Edinson about it, he has apologised,” the United manager said. “He knows, and we know, that there was no malicious intent there. There were cultural and linguistic differences.
“He hopes the mistake is not going to be costly. He’s still working on his fitness [following a groin muscle injury] and he is very meticulous in his rehab work. He couldn’t play against Sheffield United so lets see in the last training session how he is.”
No rest for Maguire and Lindelof
Solskjaer was asked if he had any inclination of giving rests to Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof given the insesant run of fixtures which continues during the Christmas period. The pair have been United’s near-permanent central defensive duo but Solskjaer realises that he may have to rotate and give the returning Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe minutes during the next few weeks.
“Victor and Harry have been very consistent, like last season as well - they were excellent,” Solskjaer said. “Eric and Axel have had small injuries but are available for Leeds I hope. So let’s see what we do.
“Harry played the most amount of minutes in European football last season, he’s enjoying playing, and Victor too. He’s growing and getting more used to the demands of the Premier League. But there might come a point when they need a rest.”
Delay of fans return
United were hoping that Sunday would see the first supporters returning to Old Trafford since March but Manchester has not been given the go-ahead to allow such relaxations by the government.
“This is a delicate question to answer because we want fans in the stadiums,” the United manager said. “I can’t see why we should stop the fans coming where it’s possible. I don’t think there would be any problem at Old Trafford to host a few thousand. Of course, it’s an advantage for them [teams allowed fans to attend] as everyone loves the support of their own club. We can just hope that they will be back soon.
“I don’t think it’s a mental issue [United’s poor home performances this season]. There’s no fans there and we should be more used to the pitch and the environment. Sometimes it’s just down to fine margins, who scores first and the way the opponents set up.”
Two years in job
Solskjaer was finally asked how he looks back on his two years since taking the United job. This weekend marks the second anniversary of the Norwegian becoming United manager, at first on an interim basis, but Solskjaer was reluctant to spend too much time looking back.
“I don’t like, in fact I hate, talking about what I think I have done - I don’t enjoy it at all,” he said. “I always look forward and I know there’s work to keep us going here. But I’ve really enjoyed those two years.”