Please note: this interview was filmed prior to the Premier League's decision to postpone tonight's fixture against Manchester United.
The latest Team News …
Hopefully Ivan Toney is available; we will find out later today. Sergi Canos is coming back from suspension and then the same players from the last game.
The last 10 days hasn’t boosted [Ivan’s] fitness but it’s a big boost he’s available for the game. Let’s see tomorrow if he starts or comes off the bench.
The ongoing Covid situation …
We are planning to play the [Manchester United] game. That’s what we are focusing on; we can’t control anything else. It will need to be a significant amount of Covid cases before the game is cancelled. Myself, I’m a little in doubt when it is enough cases for a game to be cancelled but the Tottenham game appears to be the precedent we are going on going forward. Other than that, I’m just planning to play the game.
If we could make it very clear what the rules are for cancelling a game that would be very good. All of that just takes focus away from what we all want to focus on which is the football. I am 100 per sure that the Premier League will continue through the winter; I am in no doubt about that. That is why we have the vaccines and boosters; we will continue.
Every club, and every person in the world, can be hit by Covid. We are doing a lot to try to avoid cases, but people are not at the training ground 24 hours a day. They are going food shopping and out for dinner which is the right thing to do. You need a normal life but, of course, be aware and be sensible. We are very aware about face masks, shorter meetings, and distance.
Facing Manchester United …
It is a massive club but I’m just preparing for 11 players and trying to close them down. I hope for myself there will be five minutes before the game to think ‘this is quite nice; this is going to be a good experience’ but when Andre Marriner blows the whistle it will be a game like any other that I badly want to win.
I didn’t speak to the players too much yesterday on the Manchester United game; we more had a debrief on the Watford game and individual performances. Every game my players will be unbelievably motivated to do their best, but it is completely natural that this game is going to be a tiny bit more interesting in a way.
We are just missing last year’s top scorer and one of our best centre-backs, playing one of the biggest clubs in the world. They have some decent players; Ronaldo, Rashford, and Fernandes, who might be the most creative player in the Premier League over the last two years.
I’m pretty sure that everybody involved in Manchester United have played in bigger stadiums and bigger occasions many, many times. We are just a bus stop in Hounslow that they need to face tomorrow. They know they need to do the job so the big question mark for them and for us is who actually turns up on the day. We will do our best to be prepared and attack.
Aside from the Burnley game, we’ve shown that we can stay in every game so far and have a chance to get something out of it. If we are bang on, I’m sure we can create problems for Manchester United.
Tuesday’s gameplan …
It is very important that we do what we try to do and be aggressive and press them high for as many minutes as we can. There will be moments where we will need to be unbelievably solid with the low block but, the more we can press forward and be aggressive, will be a big plus. On the ball, we were pleased with what we did against Watford. It is a different team we are playing now but the way we managed to pin them back second-half was quite impressive. Not everything was perfect on the ball; we made too many simple mistakes, but I liked our structure and our intentions.
I like preparing and analysing opponents and key players. There is a relationship between Fernandes and Ronaldo. We can do our best with the structure to close them down but for me it is about those moments of brilliance when you just relax because they haven’t created anything and Fernandes, on the half turn, plays that perfect ball in and Ronaldo is running in behind. Those are the moments we need to solve tomorrow because those are the key moments. In 88 minutes of the game, we might be fine but there will be four minutes, spread over the game, where we will need to be bang on for those eight or ten moments to either survive or do fantastically.
Ralf Rangnick’s impact at Old Trafford …
It’s a short number of samples to really analyse from. They’ve won two games with two clean sheets. They look a bit more solid and more difficult to break down. They’ve played Crystal Palace and Norwich City, no disrespect to any clubs, but if they have belief in themselves, they want to win those games with no problems. They pressed a lot more, especially against Crystal Palace, so I expect a team to come in the Ralf Rangnick trademark with the 4-2-2-2 pressing energy. That is what he wants to do.
I’ve known the Rangnick style for many years. It was most impressive when Salzburg played against Ajax a few years ago. We will look to see where we can exploit it and do what we can to hurt that system and team. He does it for a reason because he believes in it and he’s really good at implementing it.
I have biggest respect for Rangnick; what he has created over the years have been remarkable. I think he’s a little underestimated as a coach in the football world. What he has implemented at different clubs is very impressive. I think he is really good, but he isn’t a magician. Even Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola would say they need a tiny bit more than three games to get everything up to 100 per cent. They will not be top performing how he wants right now but they still have unbelievable players with so much quality as we have seen through this season. If we are not top performing, we will struggle massively.
Our victory over Watford …
It was definitely a very important result for us. I was very pleased with the performance in terms of the determination and mentality. We all know there are technical, tactical, and physical elements but the mindset and mental part of it is so huge. I am so impressed and pleased with the determination the players are showing. Watford are a good side; we have a lot of injuries, Covid cases, we went 1-0 down so there were a lot of excuses, but we kept going. After the equalizer we kept going, trying to score the second one. That is incredible and the determination and mentality that can give us even more wins going forward.
Dealing with adversity …
Going into the Watford game with only two available centre-backs out of six was a nice challenge. We found a way; the players have been adaptable and open-minded. Vitaly Janelt, what a player; no problem, I’ll step in and do the job. He text Ethan Pinnock before and Ethan was replying to tell him to do your job and be yourself. We have such a tight group; they just want the best for each other. That helps us massively.
Reaching the 20-point mark …
I always want more, and I think we’ve played to more. If you look at the performances and analyse the games, we deserve more points than we have. If you take the injuries into account, then I think it’s pretty good but I’m not dwelling on it. I am aware that people speak about 40 points and I’m pretty good at maths so to be on 20 before 19 games is OK. It is not important for me. You can get too carried away and look backwards too much; you need to stay in the moment and have unbelievable awareness on top training today and top preparation. We need to put our top performance in tomorrow night against Manchester United and then we have a big opportunity to get three points. That is what we are focused on. If you have that mindset then hopefully you are picking up a lot of points through the season and finishing as high as possible.