Manchester United host Scott Parker's Fulham in the Premier League on Tuesday evening – and despite the visitors having already been condemned to playing Championship football next season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows just how hard the occasion could prove to be.
The fact that 10,000 Reds fans will be allowed into the ground for this encounter could prove to be decisive – with United's home form being subsidiary to their undefeated away record.
Here's what the United boss had to say ahead of his side's penultimate league game of the season:
On the return of fans to Old Trafford:
"We’ve been waiting for a long, long time to welcome the fans back and of course the last couple of home games – especially the Liverpool ones with the protests, it’s never nice to see a club that is not united, the fans and the team."
"So of course, we’re hoping that Tuesday is going to be a positive day, that we move together, that we play a good game of football, because that’s my job – to prepare the team, to play well and that they enjoy the day. That’s important now, that we get back and enjoy being together.”
On recovering from a busy schedule:
“Well, I think the previous week, or the last week, has been draining. The season has been long enough so I gave them two days off: Friday, Saturday. They were bright and bubbly this morning, really sharp, and we’re looking forward to the end of the season."
"We’re looking forward to playing in front of our fans again. It’s a completely different matter and, of course, I think the fans coming in will give this game an extra lift and give the players an extra lift. And of course we’re very focused on securing the second place.”
On whether the fans will protest or support the side:
“I think the mood in any club and the relationship between a team and the fans is vital to what happens on the pitch. We’re all human beings, we’ll react to getting our supporters back in a positive way. They’ve always been back there, giving us extra energy and hopefully the players will give the fans a reason to cheer."
"That’s what we have to focus on. It’s a big game for us in that respect. Since the last time we had fans in, against Manchester City. Great game, the atmosphere was the best I’ve ever felt it at Old Trafford in a league game. The next time we can welcome the fans back in, [I hope] that it’s a positive one.”
On whether second place can be regarded as an achievement:
"The competition is a lot harder now than when I was a player, I’ve got to say. Of course, you have three, four, maybe five teams that challenge for the top two positions. The last few years, of course, the first two positions have been taken by two teams and for us to move into them and divide them, if you like, it’s a good performance but it’s not an achievement. You can’t say it’s an achievement."
"We’ve taken steps as a team, we’re not where we want to be. We know we have some deficiencies as a group. There are parts of the game we need to improve on but I’ve felt we’ve made strides in most places. I’ve been very pleased with the players this season, I’ve got to say. I’ve been impressed by them, but we want to take the next step as well."
On resting players ahead of the Europa League final:
"You know whatever team I pick, it has to be a team and they have to be players that give everything. Because if you go into a game tentative, if you have something else in your mind, you don’t fly into the tackles as you should, you don’t sprint as normal, you don’t maybe focus as much. There’s more of a danger of getting hurt in that kind of position."
"We want to build momentum, we want to build confidence because of course we’ve lost the last two at Old Trafford. We don’t want to go into an important game with bad momentum or a bad feeling, so we use these two games to get results but also to get confidence."
On whether the busy schedule has affected the players:
"Yeah, surely. I just didn’t want to use that as an excuse. We lost the two games, but surely it’s reason behind the performances and the results we’ve had. Physically, it’s impossible for them to turn up and play at the intensity and the level that’s required because of the amount of games. Then you look at the preparation in-between. You haven’t had the recovery in-between, you haven’t had the same routine as you normally do. We haven’t done the tactical prep in the same way as we’ve had."
"Of course, I’m not saying that it didn’t affect them, but was impressed with how professional they were in the way they went about it. There was none of them who complained. That’s one of the big things, for me, that we never complain. We never look outwards, we just look at what we can do. How can we maximise the situation? We tried to do that but we couldn’t get the results. The players have been good as gold, now they’ve had a couple of days off to refresh and be ready and we prepare as normal for these last two games.”