Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Talks Smalling, Alexis Exits, Zlatan Man United Return

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistAugust 30, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: A dejected Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the head coach / maanager of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on August 24, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed Chris Smalling is set to join AS Roma on loan, and he also discussed Zlatan Ibrahimovic's possible return and Alexis Sanchez's recent departure to Inter Milan.

Smalling, 29, hasn't featured in a matchday squad this season, falling down United's pecking order after the £80 million arrival of Harry Maguire from Leicester City.

Solskjaer spoke to reporters on Friday and said he had a surplus of options in central defence, with Smalling eager to pursue first-team opportunities elsewhere:

"It's just come up the last couple of days this opportunity for Chris, we've sat down and discussed it, at the moment we've got six fit centre backs, I couldn't promise Chris regular football, so he's on the plane over now.

"I think he'll enjoy the experience, it's a big club, a big league, not many English players have had the chance to play in Italy. He'll come back stronger and fitter for it."

Speaking to MUTV (h/t Charlotte Duncker of the Manchester Evening News), the United chief said neither Anthony Martial nor Luke Shaw would take part in Saturday's Premier League visit to Southampton.

Romelu Lukaku left a hole in their attack after he joined Inter Milan this summer, and Ibrahimovic—who left Old Trafford in March 2018—recently talked about a possible return to reinforce United. He suggested his work in Europe was complete but added he was "here" if United needed him, per Kieran Francis of Goal.

Solskjaer initially appeared open to signing the Los Angeles Galaxy striker, via Sky Sports News:

Sky Sports News @SkySportsNews

"Who knows? He has my number..." 👀📞 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer responds to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's offer to return to Old Trafford… 🔴 Follow all of today's Premier League build-up live here: https://t.co/YDNC280c0q https://t.co/dAj1tNNNEq

He told reporters: "If he was 28 not 38 next month, there'a big difference. Zlatan had a great time here, he's still doing well, it's unfortunate he got his injury here. Who knows, he knows my number, he looked at my house (to rent). We can speak a native language, if he's serious, I'll always speak to Zlatan."

However, Solskjaer was asked again whether he would seriously consider signing Ibrahimovic and said: "I don't think that'll happen, no. I think he's had his time at the club, he's had a fantastic career at the club."

Summer signing Daniel James has scored twice in his first three league appearances for United, but the injury to Martial causes some concern the team will be left light in attack.

Inter recently confirmed the signing of Sanchez on a season-long loan—he has a contract at United until June 2022 but has scored just five goals in 45 appearances for the club.

Solskjaer said he wanted those left fighting for their places to feel the pressure:

"I think Alexis needed to go. It has not really worked out for him. It will only benefit everyone.

"I'm trusting Marcus (Rashford), Anthony (Martial), Mason (Greenwood) to be our centre forwards. We've got loads of options and for me it is time for our boys to feel the pressure. It is something which we are looking forward to."

The Norwegian, who played alongside the Class of '92 for much of his career, called on those young, emerging players to step up to the first-team challenge:

Manchester United @ManUtd

"It’s time for our boys to feel that responsibility," says the boss. "That’s something we are looking forward to at this club. "With what we’ve done in pre-season, we are mentally and physically ready for that challenge. That’s the next step." #MUFC

The future of goalkeeper David De Gea—whose contract expires in 2020—remains a topic of concern at United.

However, Solskjaer told reporters there was little movement in negotiations: "There are still ongoing talks, I can't update you no."

United began their season with a 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea but have since failed to keep a clean sheet in two outings.  

Solskjaer said he's targeting an improved defensive performance in the trip to St Mary's in particular:

Manchester United @ManUtd

Ole: "Clean sheets are always the foundation to build on and we started really well against Chelsea, but we know the two against Palace should have been avoided. "We hope to go down there [to Southampton] and look stronger at the back." #MUFC https://t.co/KarQ1jchE4

United will hope to end a run of two games without a win against Southampton. They suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Crystal Palace in Week 3 having drawn 1-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in their previous outing.