London: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes to replicate the spirit of Manchester United’s treble-winners at Old Trafford as he plots a route back to the top for the club.
Solskjaer, last month appointed as the permanent United boss, famously scored the injury-time winner in the Champions League final when Alex Ferguson’s United side won three trophies in 1999.
The Norwegian, preparing his side to face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at home on Wednesday, intends to build the side around the principles that worked so well 20 years ago.
United are currently sixth in the Premier League but are just three points behind third-placed Tottenham and are still in contention in the Champions League.
United are the underdogs for the Barcelona tie but Solskjaer, who oversaw a stunning comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last round, is confident.
“We’re playing against a good team but there is something special about this group of players. It will be fantastic,” he said.
And the United boss is not worried that Manchester City could surpass United’s achievement in 1999 by winning a quadruple this season.
“United fans want us to win it (the Champions League) because they want to win it,” Solskjaer said. “I think we should look at what we can achieve and not what we can stop others achieving.”
In terms of history, this is the tie of the round, a meeting of two clubs with eight European Cups between them, and a repeat of the finals of 2009 and 2011.
Both of those were won by Barcelona, and the Catalans are heavy favourites against a United side sixth in the Premier League and in their first Champions League quarter-final since 2014.
At least the Old Trafford club had a weekend off to help prepare, allowing Solskjaer to travel to take in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Saturday which put them 11 points clear at the top of La Liga.
These are slightly strange times for Solskjaer, the match-winner when United beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 final at the Camp Nou. He may have just been anointed as permanent United manager, but his team have lost three of their last four games. Were the Old Trafford board a little hasty in making the appointment? Will Ronaldobe fit for game?
Cristiano Ronaldo has not played for Juventus since suffering a thigh injury on international duty with Portugal last month, raising concerns that he could miss the first leg of Juve’s tie against Ajax in Amsterdam.
However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has insisted there are “good signals” from the 34-year-old forward, whose hat-trick did for Atletico Madrid in the last round.
With or without him, this will be a fascinating clash between the experience of Juventus — who have another Serie A title practically in the bag — and an Ajax side carried by the club’s latest batch of young talent. With the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong, alongside older heads such as Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, Ajax dumped out the holders Real Madrid in the last round, setting up a repeat of the 1996 final, which Juve won on penalties.