Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has issued a blunt warning to his Manchester United squad ahead of this evening (Monday)’s Europa League quarter-final against FC Copenhagen, stressing that any complacency could lead to an humbling exit from the competition.
The Reds arrived in Germany on Sunday for the mini-tournament that is set to conclude the competition, and the Norwegian was asked by journalists how the club planned to keep the players occupied during any spell on the continent.
But Ole immediately dismissed the prospect – stressing that the squad and coaching staff’s only consideration was the imminent quarter-final test.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said the Treble hero.
“Of course, we’ve put plans in place but, for me, it’s only about this game now. You can’t think too far ahead. It’s a knockout tournament. If you don’t perform, you’re going home.
“If you go through, then you’ve got a few days before the next game. But, at the moment, we don’t have a problem.”
Perhaps at the back of Solskjaer’s mind was our last meeting with FCK, the 13-times Danish title-winners: a Champions League group-stage fixture in November 2006 that saw a United side featuring Ole, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo succumb to a 1-0 defeat.
And despite the prospect of a semi-final against Wolves or Sevilla, Ole was keen to focus on the qualities of our Scandinavian opponents, who are managed by his old friend Stale Solbakken.
“I know how Stale has built the club and what they’re about,” insisted the boss.
“Of course, I played against them when I was at Molde. I’ve known Stale for such a long time, and Copenhagen have a great history in getting into Europe and doing well in Europe.
“Stale’s team, they’ve got individuals there and very good players. There are young forwards, three of them, to be fair, and experienced players in midfield and at the back. But I think the biggest strength is the teamwork and how well organised Stale’s teams always are.”
Solskjaer detailed his long association with his opposite number during yesterday’s (Sunday’s) pre-match press conference, and will not make the mistake of under-estimating him when they go head-to-head in Cologne.
“He had a very good career as a player,” remembered the 47-year-old.
“He was always the one we [Molde] looked to – when we played against them – to stop him playing. A creative midfielder.
“Then he’s had a fantastic coaching career. He started off with his home team, hometown, HamKam, then he’s been at Copenhagen [for] two spells. He’s been in Germany, here in Cologne. He’s been in the Championship with Wolves.
“So in a similar way [to me], he’s had his ups and downs, but he’s really come through again. He’s leaving a legacy at Copenhagen. Now they’re in the quarters for the first time, so it’s step by step for him. I went to Copenhagen to study [for my] pro-licence, so it was very kind of him to let me in. They lost to Chelsea, so hopefully, this time, they’ll lose to us!”
United head into the match at the Koln Stadion having lost just one of our last 23 matches, but Ole remained modest when asked about the upturn in our form.
“One in 23 is too many!” he deadpanned, ahead of a match that could not only extend that record, but take the Reds within two matches of claiming the club legend’s first piece of silverware as manager.