Solskjaer can’t see Pogba leaving Manchester United this summer
Manager backs French midfielder to deliver big performance against Barcelona
Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku warm-up during Manchester United’s training session at Carrington on Tuesday ahead of the Champions Cup quarter-final first leg against Barcelona at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Five years on from their last appearance in the last eight of European football’s top competition, Old Trafford plays host to the five-time European champions in an eagerly-anticipated first leg.
Pogba, like so often, has been subject of much of the pre-match talk, with the World Cup winner’s happiness and Old Trafford future subject of growing speculation.
Barcelona were widely linked to the 26-year-old last summer and president Josep Maria Bartomeu recently confirmed the club have had a long-standing interest in “one of the stars of the world of football”.
Fellow La Liga giants Real Madrid are being widely touted as a summer destination for Pogba, but Solskjær expects him to stay at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.
The United boss said: “Paul is looking forward to tomorrow. He’s a Man United player. He’s one of our, of course, big performers and on a big stage.
“He knows the game against PSG was not his greatest moment. So, he is only focused on playing well tomorrow against Barcelona and I cannot see him not playing for Man United next season either.”
Pogba will be champing at the bit after missing the jaw-dropping last-16 comeback against Paris St Germain following his sending off late in the first leg.
Asked if this is the kind of game where the France midfielder can make his mark, Solskjær said: “It’s not about one player, everyone has to perform at their best level and at Paul’s best he can run a game like this and that’s what you expect from him: that he really puts his stamp on a game like this.
“I expect Chris [Smalling] to defend really well, but that’s his job. Paul’s job is to be the creator, and when we win the ball that he drives forward, so I expect him to perform tomorrow.”
A big performance under the Old Trafford floodlights is needed the recently-confirmed permanent manager looks to bounce back from a run of three defeats in four matches.
The Norwegian says the comeback against PSG has given the side belief, but there are few tougher asks than shackling Lionel Messi.
“Well, what kind of plan can you have to stop one of the best players in the world?” Solskjær said.
“As Chris says, we’re looking forward to, relish the opportunity, but this season we’ve played against Juventus and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, PSG with [Kylian] Mbappé.
“We’ve had Chelsea and [Eden] Hazard. Neymar didn’t play against us.
“I think the better an opponent . . . [Luis] Suarez as well and [Philippe] Coutinho and Messi will keep our defenders on their toes, so let’s see how we manage tomorrow.”
Solskjær is hoping for “a little bit of rain” and an “unbelievable” atmosphere on Wednesday night, when United will attempt to end a run of two successive losses against Barca.
Those defeats came in the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011 under Alex Ferguson, who the Norwegian has spoken to ahead of the quarter-final.
“I think all my experiences and over the years with Barcelona – watching and admiring the team, the quality they’ve got – you always look at what you’ll do against them,” Solskjær said.
“We’re ready. Of course, I’ve spoken with the gaffer since we went through, and the draw was made but no details.”
“We still hope maybe that Nemanja can be ready,” Solskjær said after the defensive midfielder missed Tuesday’s session.
“And Ander [is] probably out, but Eric and Antonio definitely out, yeah. [Rashford] needed extra warm up and hopefully, he won’t get a reaction.
“He joined parts of it at the end, but he couldn’t join the boxes, which is the fun part of training, so let’s see tomorrow. Hopefully, he’ll be ready.”