Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said goodbye to the Manchester United players twice last Sunday.
Sacked in the wake of the club’s shocking 4-1 defeat at Watford the previous day, the Norwegian unusually gave a final interview, reflecting on his time in charge. During his long farewell, he also made the point of speaking with the players he was leaving behind at their Carrington training ground.
“[He spoke to us] individually, around breakfast time, then we had a meeting before we went out to train, which was very different,” Marcus Rashford told Sky Sports.
“I’ve been here when managers have left and they just pack their stuff and go out the door. But it just shows how good a person he is, how much the club means to him.
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“Ole knows he’ll always be a legend of this club and the players here respect him 100 per cent. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t go our way as a group. The way it started, the position he brought us to, we were close a couple of times to winning big trophies and we always seemed to just fall short.
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“If those moments go our way, we could end up with two or three trophies, maybe he’d have had more time. But it’s football, things happen, and you can only move on from it. Even though it’s difficult, you have to find a way to move on.”
Rashford, a United fan, had a particular affinity to Solskjaer. “Inside you feel guilty because everybody has a role to play when you’re on the pitch,” he says. But there has been little time for reflection.
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The past week has been a good example of how quickly things move in football – and particularly at Manchester United.
By Tuesday, interim to the interim, Michael Carrick was steering the team to a crucial win at Villarreal, which sent United into the last-16 of the Champions League. A day later, Ralf Rangnick was revealed to be the man set to lead the club until next summer.
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It’s been a frantic few days and, with a trip to Premier League leaders Chelsea, live on Sky Sports, this Sunday, the drama is set to continue.
Sunday 28th November 4:00pm Kick off 4:30pm
United go to Stamford Bridge having lost five of their last seven in the top flight. But Rashford says their win in Spain in midweek – and some wise words from their former manager – provides the template for how they can re-find their form.
“Leading up to that game was obviously difficult for us,” he said. “We were already in a difficult patch and with Ole leaving it makes things even trickier. But one of the things Ole always said to us was, ‘when you’re on the pitch, stick together’. And that performance against Villarreal was that.
“We all stuck together, we dug in deep. They’re a good team and keep the ball a lot and we found a way to win the game.”
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The win on Tuesday was a notable result for Carrick, but Rashford says the stand-in boss hasn’t made any significant changes to the way the team were prepared for matches under Solskjaer. Instead, the players have doubled down on their efforts.
“A lot of the principles have stayed the same because they’re the principles that got us so close to winning those trophies,” said Rashford. “Not much has changed.
“The players are finding it within ourselves to give 110 per cent and we’re going to have to keep doing that. We know we’re in an uphill battle but everyone’s ready for the fight and we don’t have anyone in our team who is shying away from that. Everyone is looking forward.”
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The off-field changes are no excuse for the players to be distracted, either, he adds. Instead, the trip to Villarreal and the upcoming game with Chelsea has provided welcome opportunities to re-focus on what’s next.
And while the Premier League leaders will be favourites for that clash on Sunday, Rashford says United are heading there with the intention and belief they’ll come away with three points.
“It can be unsettling if you think about it. But I’m not thinking about it,” he said. “I’m focusing on the next game and working with ‘Carras’ and the coaching staff. What can we do to win the next game? That’s what’s important and all we can focus on.
“In our position now, you want games thick and fast, you want them to be tough games, you want games to bring the best out of us to see how good we are.
“We’ve been at the level before where we’ve been close, so we know we can do it. We just have to find it within ourselves to do it again. For me I’m pleased the games are coming around so quickly.
“Tactically the manager [Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel] is a very good manager. We played against him a few times when he was at Paris St-Germain and tactically he was good in those games as well.
“The forward line is exceptional, they’ve got a strong midfield, players who can keep the ball… They’re a top team and for sure they’ll be fighting for the title this year – but it doesn’t mean we can’t beat them.
“We’ve got things that can hurt them, we’ve got players who can hurt them, as long as we’re together and choose the right moments to go we’ll be fine.
“The mental state of the players and staff is positive, we go there to win the game. With that mindset and the spirit we have, anything is possible.”
Premier League Preview – Expect a ‘whirlwind’ impact from Rangnick at Man Utd | His objectives | Plus: Brighton, Brentford analysis
Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith, and football journalist Simeon Gholam to look ahead to the Premier League weekend.
PART 1 | Alan Smith discusses Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as Man Utd interim boss, what he will bring to the club, and how he could help their young players kick on. Is he paving the way for Mauricio Pochettino? Alan assesses Rangnick’s consultancy role, which is planned to start next summer, too.
PART 2 | Simeon Gholam breaks down Brighton’s mixed start to the campaign and what they need to do to get back to winning ways against Leeds.
PART 3 | Simeon – our EFL Editor – also looks at newly-promoted Brentford, who have also had a good start followed by a frustrating period, ahead of their Super Sunday clash with Everton.
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