Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted that Paul Pogba will stay at Manchester United next season as he challenged the World Cup winner to dominate the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
The £89 million (Dh427m) midfielder said last month that playing for Real Madrid would be “a dream for everyone” while their manager Zinedine Zidane has gone public in his admiration for his fellow Frenchman.
But United manager Solskjaer believes Pogba will not leave and feels he has a point to prove as he returns to European competition for the first time since his red card in the 2-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in February.
He said: “I cannot see him not playing for Man United next season. He knows the game against PSG was not his greatest moment so he is looking forward to Barcelona. At Paul’s best he can run a game like this. Paul’s job is to be the creator, to drive forward when we win the ball, so I expect him to perform.”
United overcame the odds to win 3-1 in Paris and while they go into this tie as underdogs, Solskjaer insists his team feel they can eliminate the Spanish champions.
He added: “We know we need to step up our game and perform at our best level, which we didn’t in PSG in the home game, but the outcome of the second leg has given the players and supporters belief it is possible.”
United face Lionel Messi, who scored in Barcelona’s 2009 and 2011 Champions League final victories against them, and has 10 goals in his last six matches and 595 in his career for the club.
“What kind of plan can you have to stop one of the best players in the world?” Solskjaer mused, but he drew heart from United’s displays against the some of the game’s other outstanding attackers.
“He is a fantastic player and will go down in the history as one of the best individual players ever. He will be difficult to stop but it is never impossible. We are looking forward to the opportunity but we have played Juventus with [Cristiano] Ronaldo, PSG with [Kylian] Mbappe and Chelsea with [Eden] Hazard. [Luis] Suarez and [Philippe] Coutinho and Messi will keep our defenders on our toes.”
Chris Smalling, who produced arguably the finest performance of his nine-year United career at the Parc des Princes, was in bullish mood as he prepared to take on Messi.
“This season I have been lucky enough to face Ronaldo and Mbappe and they are challenges I relish. I say ‘bring it on,’” the centre-back said. “We watched the draw and when we saw it was Barcelona, you could see the smiles on the faces.”
Solskjaer scored the most famous goal of his life in Camp Nou to win the 1999 Champions League final, but only after holding Barcelona twice in the group stages.
They shared six goals at Old Trafford then and the Norwegian added: “We drew 3-3 away from home as well so if we can get a 6-6 and a penalty shoot-out at the Nou Camp, I think everyone would be happy.”
Solskjaer said Nemanja Matic, who missed training, might be involved but Ander Herrera is unlikely to play, so Scott McTominay and Fred could both start. Marcus Rashford, the match-winner against Paris Saint-Germain, may return. “Hopefully he will be ready,” Solskjaer said. Alexis Sanchez, who is back in training, will not feature against his former club.
Matic, Herrera, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young are all a booking away from a ban and Solskjaer said: “We have learned from that PSG game, players have talked about it, how we were dragged into making fouls. We have got to be more patient with their tackles.”
Solskjaer again harked back to 1999, thinking of an inspirational performance from United’s captain after he got the caution to rule him out of the final. He said: “Roy Keane was the best example how to react if you get a yellow card and are out.”