Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Manchester United now have the balance they have been building towards that can help them do better in this season’s Champions League.
United get their Champions League campaign underway for the 2021-22 season on Tuesday night. They have travelled to Switzerland for a battle in Bern against Young Boys. On paper, they appear the easiest opponents in a group that also includes Villarreal and Atalanta. But no game in this competition can be classed as routine.
Of course, United didn’t even make it out of the group stage last season. They came third before going on to reach the Europa League final, which they lost on penalties to Villarreal. This year, they are aiming to make a better impression in Europe’s primary continental club competition.
They go into their first game in it this season on the back of an uplifting 4-1 win over Newcastle, in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice on his second debut for the club.
It has given them renewed confidence and Solskjaer is subsequently aiming high.
Asked the fairly obvious question of whether they want to go further this year, Solskjaer replied: “Of course, as you say we have had some very good, memorable nights at the club and they are the biggest nights.
“The aim is to go all the way but we know it’s going to be difficult. It always is.
“But we’ve added some quality, experience and youth into the squad and hopefully we are better prepared for what’s to come.”
As Solskjaer referenced, United’s squad has been bolstered this summer in the transfer market. In addition to Ronaldo, long-term targets Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane both joined the club at long last.
Ronaldo and Varane won the Champions League together four times with Real Madrid, bringing experience which could be crucial for United this season.
But Solskjaer expects his younger talents – like Sancho – to make an impression as well.
He said: “I think sometimes you can go far with the youth as well, but in some games experience will of course play its part. But in others, you need the youthful exuberance and courage.”
Overall, he is satisfied with the blend the squad now has, which means United’s plan is materialising.
Solskjaer added: “This team has grown and matured over the last few seasons, that was always the plan. Call is three years time back in the day when I came in we wanted a team with experience and quality who could challenge.
“David [De Gea] sat next to me, Harry [Maguire] has been here for a few years now, Raphael and Cristiano. We’ve learned.
“The group is special as a united they look after each other and it’s going to stand us in good stead.”
Solskjaer speaks about Paul Pogba
Asked if the presence of Ronaldo can help persuade Paul Pogba – whose contract expires at the end of the season – to stay, Solskjaer said: “Well, it’s up to us now to get results and to prove to ourselves that we can win trophies.
“Everyone who signs for United wants to win trophies and be part of a winning United team. It’s the most magical feeling. I think everyone is focused on doing their best and let’s see where it goes.”
Speaking more specifically about Pogba, who has remained at the club beyond the transfer window, Solskjaer revealed his impressions of the Frenchman.
However, the manager gave an alternative take to his promising assists record.
Solskjaer said: “Paul has come back in good shape. He’s worked really hard over the summer. He’s come back lean and fit.
“What does an assist consist of? A square pass to Bruno [Fernandes] and he puts it in the top corner? Or a great ball for Mason [Greenwood]?
“Paul has always been a great passer and he’s not got assists from his best passes this season. I don’t pay attention to assists, it’s a social media thing. But Paul has played well for sure.”