Ole Gunnar Solskjaer happy for European competitions to be settled over one leg

Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
·4-min read

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be open to European fixtures being decided as one-off games given the complications of two-legged ties amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Having been knocked out of this season’s Champions League in the group stage, the Red Devils kick off their Europa League return against Real Sociedad next Thursday.

Old Trafford will host the return leg of the round of 32 clash but the first fixture will be played in Turin rather than San Sebastian due to the Spanish Government’s restrictions on travellers entering the country from England.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool will all play the first leg of their Champions League last-16 ties at neutral grounds, while both matches between Arsenal and Benfica in the Europa League will be moved.

The Stadio Olimpico in Rome will host the first leg and the return fixture will be at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Greece, raising concerns about the format and sustainability of two-legged European ties.

United boss Solskjaer said: “With Europe, of course that’s what we hope, that it’s going to be sustainable.

“Different governments, the travel in Europe at the moment is difficult as you all know and it’s not a decision that we made.

“But when one game is at a neutral venue it’s a disadvantage, of course, for the team that doesn’t have the home game.

“But that’s out of our hands, it’s nothing that we can say ‘OK, we’ll just meet in Turin and play one game’. I wouldn’t mind that at all, one game less.”

Following the shutdown of football last March due to Covid-19, UEFA completed the Champions League in Lisbon over single-legged ties from the quarter-finals onwards.

Germany hosted the conclusion of the Europa League using the same format, with Manchester United bowing out in the semi-finals to eventual winners Sevilla in Cologne.

“That’s what we did last season,” Solskjaer said. “We met somewhere neutral and made it a tournament.

Manchester United played in the Europa League mini tournament in Germany
Manchester United played in the Europa League mini tournament in Germany (PA Wire via DPA)

“Of course home and away if we are going to keep that going.

“We do have a little advantage. It’s a disadvantage for Sociedad, of course, to have their home game in Turin.

“So, for me, I wouldn’t stand in the way of (one-off knockout games). There’s probably other reasons why we don’t.”

Solskjaer’s immediate focus is Premier League matters as second-placed United travel to Sam Allardyce’s embattled West Brom on Sunday afternoon.

Paul Pogba suffered a thigh injury against Everton last weekend
Paul Pogba suffered a thigh injury against Everton last weekend (Martin Rickett/PA)

Paul Pogba will miss the trip to the Hawthorns and the coming weeks with a thigh injury but Eric Bailly has returned to training following Tuesday’s 1-0 extra-time FA Cup win against West Ham.

“We’ve had a rare opportunity to do a little bit of training and actually some recovery because you’ve got Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then not a game until Sunday, so that’s been a rarity for us really,” Solskjaer said.

“But Paul is still out. Eric’s been training so that’s a boost for us.”

Amad Diallo made the matchday squad on Tuesday for the first time since the 18-year-old’s high-profile switch from Atalanta last month.

Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo and Shola Shoretire are impressing at Manchester United
Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo and Shola Shoretire are impressing at Manchester United (PA)

The winger has been turning out for the under-23 team after training in the first-team bubble, which 17-year-old Shola Shoretire has now joined and 18-year-old midfielder Hannibal Mejbri will soon follow him into.

“We’ve moved Shola up with us,” Solskjaer said. “Hannibal will join us and we’ll keep them with us for a while. I think it’s the next step in their development.

“We’ve just got to take the hit on them when they play in the reserves that they have to travel by themselves, so they move into our bubble.

“I think that’s a nice step for them, well deserved because they’ve done really well.”