EPL

It's not psychological - Solskjaer not concerned by semi-final record after derby defeat

By Sports Desk January 06, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put Manchester United's latest semi-final heartbreak down to facing "probably the best team in England" rather than a psychological issue after their derby defeat to Manchester City.

John Stones scored his first City goal since November 2017 early in the second half and Fernandinho sealed a 2-0 EFL Cup victory seven minutes from time at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

United had just two shots on target as they suffered a fourth semi-final defeat out of four since Solskjaer took over as manager.

City looked ominous once again as they extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches, setting up a showdown with Tottenham at Wembley, where they will be favourites to win the competition for a sixth time in eight seasons on April 25.

Solskjaer was disappointed by the way United conceded but gave great credit to Pep Guardiola's in-form side.

"Manchester City can score many great goals. You can accept that. When you concede two simple set-plays, it's very disappointing. Just not good enough in those moments," he told Sky Sports.

"We didn't create enough big chances. They didn't either. We didn't have the extra finesse we've had in the games lately, we weren't good enough.

"We played against a very good Manchester City team, they played well. When they play well you have to play very well to beat them. We were just lacking that little bit."

Yet Solskjaer does not see any need to read too much into the Red Devils' record in semi-finals during his reign.

"We're getting closer. This is a much better version of United than a year ago in those semis," he added.

"It's not psychological [losing another semi-final]. Sometimes you meet good teams in the semis. At the moment, City are probably the best team in England."

Related items

  • Marcelo and Courtois hail Ancelotti impact ahead of Champions League final Marcelo and Courtois hail Ancelotti impact ahead of Champions League final

    Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois have hailed Carlo Ancelotti's impact on the side on the eve of their Champions League final clash with Liverpool, with the former saying he is "lucky" to have worked with the Italian.

    Ancelotti has made a stunning impact since returning to the club he led to the 2014 Champions League title, winning LaLiga by a 13-point margin and leading Los Blancos to the showpiece event in Paris against all odds.

    Madrid have become the first team to reach the competition's final after losing a game in each of the last 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, while Ancelotti could win the trophy for a fourth time as head coach.

    That would make the Italian the most successful boss in the competition's history outright, and he has won three of his previous four Champions League finals – though his one such defeat came against Liverpool as Milan boss in 2005.

    Speaking alongside Ancelotti at Madrid's pre-match press conference in Paris, both players hailed the Italian's abilities to communicate with Los Blancos' star-studded squad, with Marcelo saying he felt fortunate to have worked under the 62-year-old.

    "I've known him for eight years, I've been lucky enough to train with him," the Brazilian said of his head coach.

    "He understands football very well and knows how to manage the locker room. It's normal that we all want to play. 

    "This season we haven't had almost any problems, the coach leaves us alone, tells us the truth. That gives confidence to work."

    Madrid goalkeeper Courtois, who is yet to win European football's biggest prize and was a runner-up to Los Blancos when on loan at Atletico Madrid in 2014, echoed the left-back's praise of Ancelotti, crediting him and his staff with fostering an excellent team spirit at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    "The good dynamics of the team is due to the coaching staff, we train very well and we know that they make decisions," he said.

    "But they manage it very well, everyone has played. That's why we are where we are."

    Including Marcelo, Madrid have four different players in their squad to have made 100 or more Champions League appearances (Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Marcelo, and David Alaba). 

    They could become the first team to name a starting XI in the competition's final featuring four or more players with a century of Champions League appearances, having fielded three in their 2018 final win over Jurgen Klopp's team (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos).

    Meanwhile, Marcelo, who is out of contract at the end of this season, says any decision on whether he will extend his 15-year stay with Madrid will be made after the final.

    While the 34-year-old was unwilling to give any hints as to where his future may lie, he referred to the Spanish giants as "the club of his life", and says the team has given him "everything" in his career.

    "Everyone knows my passion and my love for the club of my life, which is Madrid," Marcelo added. 

    "[Former club] Fluminense was in its time, it gave me everything at the beginning. Madrid has given me everything too. 

    "I won't say what I think now. I don't want a statue, my story is made in Madrid, and I will continue to do so. After the final, we'll see what we do."

  • Benzema continuing to grow as a leader, says Ancelotti Benzema continuing to grow as a leader, says Ancelotti

    Karim Benzema is continuing to grow as a leader on and off the pitch after inspiring Real Madrid to the Champions League final, according to head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

    The France international leads the scoring charts in this season's competition with 15 goals, which is just two behind Cristiano Ronaldo's all-time record in a single campaign.

    That includes back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout-stage wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, and three goals across both legs against Manchester City in the semis.

    Benzema is enjoying his best campaign yet in front of goal and will look to round off 2021-22 in style when Madrid face Liverpool in Saturday's final at Stade de France in Paris.

    Asked what improvements he has seen in Benzema this season, Ancelotti said: "He has more personality and leadership now on and off the pitch.

    "What has not changed is his quality, which is still top, and also his humility."

    At 34 years and 160 days, Benzema is out to become the second-oldest player to score in the Champions League final after Paolo Maldini (36y 333d) for Milan – also against Liverpool in 2005.

    The 34-year-old has happy memories of playing against the Reds, having opened the scoring in Madrid's 3-1 victory when the sides met in the 2018 final in Kyiv.

    Marcelo, who was also on the pitch that day and is seeking an incredible 25th trophy with Los Blancos this weekend, has also been impressed by Benzema's leadership qualities.

    "He has shown that [leadership], though it's not just been this season," Marcelo said at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

    "His character and presence has helped the team a lot. He doesn't even need to talk for that. He plays great football for us."

  • Ancelotti: History pushed Madrid to 'deserved' Champions League final Ancelotti: History pushed Madrid to 'deserved' Champions League final

    Carlo Ancelotti believes the weight of history behind Real Madrid has pushed Los Blancos to another Champions League final.

    Liverpool stand in the way of a 14th triumph at the highest level in Europe for Madrid, who have not lost in the final of the competition since defeat to the Reds in Paris in 1981.

    The Stade de France will play host to Saturday's clash between Jurgen Klopp's Reds and Ancelotti's Madrid, with the Italian looking to lift the Champions League for a record fourth time as a manager.

    Madrid's run in Europe this season has been packed with late heroics, having overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Paris Saint-Germain and staved off a late Chelsea comeback to triumph in extra-time.

    Los Blancos saved their best for the semi-final, though, Rodrygo scoring twice in the dying moments before Karim Benzema sealed a remarkable turnaround with an extra-time penalty against Manchester City.

    While questions remain about whether Madrid will be able to pull off another result against Liverpool, Ancelotti insists his side are full value for their place in the showpiece game.

    "We deserved to reach the final," he told a news conference on Friday. "Quality and talent is not enough. You have to combine it with commitment.

    "The history of this club has pushed us to the final. To win the final you have to deserve it.

    "We have to show our qualities, as we have done the whole season. The collective commitment has been great, with a lot of individual quality.

    "Liverpool will be intense and direct, that's what they will propose. Whoever is able to show their quality will win."

    Ancelotti has succeeded in three of his previous four Champions League finals as a coach, with the one exception when Liverpool completed a Madrid-like comeback to defeat a star-studded Milan on penalties in 2005.

    However, the 62-year-old pinpointed that defeat, in which Milan were 3-0 up at half-time before losing, as his favourite European final he has overseen.

    "Dreams can't be controlled. I have good memories of my finals. The final that was my favourite was in 2005 when we lost to Liverpool," he said.

    "Anything can happen in a final and you have to be ready. We've prepared well and we're going to give the best we have. If it's enough, I don't know, because football has something that can't be controlled.

    "The build-up is very nice, you have to enjoy it until the referee whistles the start. Then another story begins."

    Ancelotti will perhaps be wished well by Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton, whom he managed last season before returning to Madrid for a second spell.

    "The Everton fans will go with us. I have great memories. I'm sure they will support me tomorrow," he said.

    As for his starting XI, Ancelotti suggested he has made up his mind but not informed his players who will make the cut.

    "The line-up is decided, but I'm not going to say it. The players don't know it," he said.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.