Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the introduction of extra substitutions will be “welcome” when Manchester United resume their Premier League campaign later this month. The coronavirus pandemic forced the English top flight to be suspended in March. But even though Britain’s official virus death toll has now topped 40,000, ‘Project Restart’ is set to see the Premier League get going again, with United returning to action away to Tottenham Hotspur on June 19.
United face fellow European qualification hopefuls Sheffield United on June 24, with the FA Cup quarter-final at Norwich and league match at Brighton following soon afterwards. With games coming thick and fast, Premier League clubs have agreed managers will be able to make up to five substitutions per match from an expanded nine-strong bench as a way of helping sides cope with a three-month backlog of fixtures.
“I think that’s helpful because footballers, after being out for so long, going into competitive games will be a challenge for them and we have to look after them injury-wise and fitness-wise,” United manager Solskjaer told the club’s website. “We can’t just flog one player and say to them, ‘you play every game and every minute’ because it might be a period when we have to rotate quite often.”
United are currently three points adrift of a place in next season’s Champions League, and Solskjaer said: “It does feel like a new season but then again, the first two games against Tottenham and Sheffield United are vital for the league standings, the table. And it’s a short season, it’s only nine (league) games so can we get as many points and good performances as possible.
“If we do get a good spell now, we could end up with some trophies and something to cheer about. It’s a young team with some great talent, some great work-rate, personalities... the human qualities in the group are fantastic.”
Solskjaer is confident his side will hit the ground running. “The first game is two weeks from today so we need to step up the training and get an edge to our game again,” Solskjaer said. “Everyone knows that we will have to be at our best, have to be focused (against Tottenham). We know it’s a big game for everyone. We had Chelsea when we started the league this season so I’m confident that our players can go into the Tottenham game with that mentality of going there to play a very good game of football.”
Solsjkaer said, however, his squad had been preparing for a congested fixture schedule. “Training has been about recapping what we did well, tweaking maybe one or two things and looking at some new ideas, but hopefully we can see a lot of what we saw towards the end before the lockdown.
“We’ve got games coming weekend, midweek, weekend for a spell so you have to focus on ourselves and not just on that one, first game,” added the Norweigian. “Gradually now, as we’ve got into contact training, you can see a little bit more of the edge but also the camaraderie and team bonding. That’s vital for me in a team. That’s one of the main things, that we are a team and the team goes before anything else.”
The enforced suspension has allowed the likes of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford to regain fitness following ankle and back injuries respectively. But former United striker Solskjaer was cautious about their prospects of playing against Spurs.
“Well, we hope everybody’s going to be ready for the first game. We’ve had time out so I don’t think we can expect that those lads who’ve missed lots of the football can last the full game.”
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