Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he has “loads of respect” for Roma ahead of their Europa League semifinal first leg clash despite supporters of the Italian side taking offence at some of the Norwegian’s prematch comments.
Quizzed about Roma immediately after United’s quarterfinal victory over Granada, Solskjaer said: “I don’t know them and I haven’t seen them play.”
It prompted Roma fans to put up posters of Solskjaer at the club’s training ground carrying the words “make sure he remembers us.”
“That was straight after the game and with all the games we’ve had I was just relieved we’d gone through,” Solskjaer, when asked about the incident at a news conference on Wednesday, said: “Of course I’d watched them but hadn’t analysed them and hadn’t seen them in depth to give them enough respect, probably.
“It’s a fantastic club with a great history. I’ve actually got two prized possessions back home, a [Francesco] Totti shirt and a [Daniele] De Rossi shirt that I’ve swapped with them and they’re actually signed, so I know about the history, I know about the quality.
“With Chris [Smalling] being there last season, we followed them then they signed Chris and we’ve not watched them as much but we have analysed them down to the ground since we drew them. We are ready for them.
“It was not meant as any disrespect, I think everyone knows that. I’ve got loads of respect for them.”
United are looking to reach a major final for the first time under Solskjaer after reaching four previous semifinals. They went out at the same stage of the Europa League to Sevilla last season but Solskjaer said there is more “belief” in the group this time around.
“I would like to think so,” Solskjaer said. “The players have had another year, more experienced, they’ve come through difficult times.
“You know when you come to the business end of the season, the main thing is arriving there, being there, being in and around the important games, being in good form and having confidence and belief like we do have now.
“We’ve done remarkably well to get to five semis in a little bit more than a season but of course now we’d like to go all the way. That would mean so much to the end of the season, if we have a final to look forward to.”
Luke Shaw is also hoping to reach his first final with United after missing out on four during his time at Old Trafford. He did not make the squad for the 2016 FA Cup final, 2017 EFL Cup final, 2017 Europa League final or the 2018 FA Cup final but is keen to put it right in this season’s Europa League.
“Personally, it is a massive motivation,” Shaw said. “I’ve been quite unfortunate not to be involved in semifinals and finals so I’m looking forward to stepping out in one but from a team point of view it’s very important. It’s a game we’re ready for.”
Meanwhile, Roma coach Paulo Fonseca has been getting the inside track on United from former players Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Smalling spent 10 years at United before signing for Roma last year following a successful loan spell while Mkhitaryan left United for Arsenal in 2018.
“This match is against a great team, maybe the favourite to win the competition,” Fonseca told a news conference on Wednesday. “We prepared for the match well. I talked to the two of them who played here and have experience in this moment of the competition. We know it will be difficult, we respect United but we have our ambitions.
“We don’t always reach a semifinal, we understand the importance of the moment. We have seen our fans and it is important to feel this support. We want to fight for them and for the club.”
Smalling picked up a knee injury in early March that kept him out of action until last weekend. Roma struggled in his absence, winning one of their last seven league games to drop to seventh in Serie A.
Back in the team, Smalling hopes he can help improve his side’s fortunes in a match that will hold additional significance for him.
“It will be disappointing not have a full house and have all my friends and family watching the two clubs who have been a big part of my career,” he said. “It is very rare that you play against a team where you know all the players, and in such a big game too. It has all the ingredients to be special.
“I have missed many matches this season [through injury] and it is unusual for me. But I feel good and I am ready to contribute. We know the importance of [Thursday].”