Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said that his Manchester United side couldn’t be better prepared to face the Champions League. Two months ago nobody gave them a hope of even getting past their last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain, the first leg of which takes place at Old Trafford tonight. Now, after ten wins and a draw from 11 games under Solskjaer, they are many people’s favourites and the manager believes they can rock the French champions and then roll over more opponents further down the line.
Solskjaer said: “Going into this game I do not think we could be in a better frame of mind with the confidence and form we have. We’ve given ourselves the best possible opportunity given the way things have gone. We’ve found out what sort of team we have. We are looking like a team. We have a playing style and we all agree on how we should approach games. So if ever we had a chance going into big games, it’s now.”
Solskjaer was at home with his son Noah when the draw in December pitched United against PSG. Days later he found out he would be in charge for the tie as he was made interim boss after Jose Mourinho’s sacking. He said: “Of course I didn’t know, I was watching it with Noah and said, ‘Wow, that’s a tough challenge’.”
It certainly looked that way then but the incredible improvement under the Norwegian, not only in results but performances, has given the club a real belief they can get through. Not just that but go deep into a competition Solskjaer famously claimed with an injury-time winner 20 years ago. Solskjaer said: “This squad is very capable of winning against any opponent. If we keep working hard every single day, we can improve and maybe surprise a few.”
It is a while since fans at Old Trafford have looked forward to a European tie of this importance. Forget the Europa League, a very poor relation of this competition. It is the Champions League where it is at. Since losing in the 2010-11 final to Barcelona, United’s best performance in the competition came in reaching the quarter-finals under David Moyes in 2013-14. Sir Alex Ferguson’s final farewell to the competition came in the last 16, losing the Real Madrid.
For a club that used to be feared in Europe, they have become also-rans, something Solskjaer aims to change. It has surely been too long since this famous ground has experienced these big nights. Solskjaer said: “Yeah, it has been. If you look back, maybe one of the last few exciting knockout games was Real Madrid when Nani was sent off, then we had Bayern Munich a few years ago. So we’re looking forward to this. These nights are special. My last one as a player was against Roma when we beat them 7-1 here. I remember we lost 2-1 away but the manager was so happy and said, ‘We’ll win at home’. So we just want the players to go into this game confident and embrace it.”
Solskjaer is brimming with confidence. His eight league wins from nine games took the club into the top four last weekend for the first time this season. And as SunSport revealed yesterday, his achievements as interim boss have convinced the United board to give him the job permanently at the end of the season. A very popular choice — not just with the fans but the players as well.