Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recalls 'fierce' Leeds encounters as Manchester United get ready to renew old rivalry

Ahead of Wednesday's clash in Perth, the United manager spoke to The National about how the team's pre-season is progressing and David de Gea's contract situation

PERTH // One of England’s great football rivalries resumes in western Australia on Wednesday when Manchester United and Leeds United meet in front of an expected 55,000 capacity crowd at Perth's Optus Stadium. The teams have not played in the Premier League since Leeds were relegated in 2004 and not in any cup game since 2011. Leeds came close to promotion in May, but missed out under manager Marcelo Bielsa.

It is a chance for Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to see his how players are progressing. The Norwegian wants to add to his squad, but is also unsure whether others are staying.

Ahead of the friendly, the second of United’s five pre-season games, at least Solskjaer could reminisce about past encounters between the Lancashire and Yorkshire giants.

When asked by The National about his favourite memories facing Leeds as a player, Solskjaer said: “The 4-3 win when I scored two at Elland Road,” he said in reference to United's victory in March 2002. “And seeing David Beckham and Ian Harte having the slowest ever race for a 50 yard ball from Paul Scholes. We had some great games against them. They had a fantastic team around the late 90s with a friend of mine, Eirik Bakke, and there were a few fierce tackles in those games.”

The rivalry has been put on the back burner, Solskjaer said. “The more you play against each other, the more the rivalry will flare up. You want to have games against the biggest clubs and if we have Leeds back up in the Premier League again I’m sure you can see the size of the game. It’s a great occasion for the players and the supporters and there were some fantastic games.”

Solskjaer and his staff have a huge job to try and close the gap on champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool. United finished sixth last season, but Solskjaer feels he is making progress.

“When you coach and manage a team the little things can make a big difference,” he said. “We’re working on fitness, some new tactics and ideas. We want the players to be ready, to be involved and to create a team. We want a team ethos as a foundation. We’ve had two weeks when everyone has been training and everyone is quite fit. When we start the league we want everyone ready to play. We hope to continue with intensity, aggression, energy. I’ve been encouraged by the whole pre-season.”

Some certainty would help amid the rumours of which players may be on their way out of Old Trafford.

“The day we start the league, I’m sure everyone who’s here will give absolutely everything for Manchester United,” he said. “We want a strong team with players who give everything. There are always rumours, speculation about United players, but when the league starts we’ll batten down the hatches and stay as a team.”

Goalkeeper Dean Henderson, defender Matteo Darmian and midfielder Fred are expected to join the rest of the squad in Singapore before the game against Inter Milan on July 20.

One player aiming to be part of the manager's plans for the new season is 22-year-old centre-back Axel Tuanzebe.

“He has a great chance of staying here and playing,” Solskjaer said. “He had a great season last year, a stop-start season, but he’s really proven he can play at that level and he’s come back strong and focused. He did well in the first game here and he’s one of the exciting players I can’t wait to see more of.”

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Manchester United beat Perth Glory 2-0

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On new signing Daniel James, who has made a positive impression among the players, Solskjaer added: “Dan can play all across the front line. He’s more right and left wing but he can play in the middle as well. It’s about finding a relationship that works. Sometimes you want a full-back to join the attack and maybe you don’t want a winger hugging the touchline. We’ll have to find a balance between width and players in-between.”

Goalkeeper David de Gea will play against Leeds. United hope the Spaniard will sign an extension to a deal that expires next June. “Hopefully we can agree [a new contract] with David,”Solskjaer said amid speculation that a deal is close.

That would be some welcome news for Manchester United fans nervous about the season ahead.

Updated: July 16, 2019 10:31 AM

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