Extra security measures put in place around Old Trafford
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has called for calm as Manchester United officials strengthened security at Old Trafford in readiness for more supporter protests against the club owners.
United play Leicester tonight before facing Liverpool on Thursday in a game rearranged after fans broke into the stadium and forced a postponement nine days ago.
It is believed that protests are planned for Thursday’s match, rather than tonight’s, and the club have installed security measures and blockades around the ground.
Solskjaer, the United manager, confirmed that security – including pregame plans – was under review and called on supporters to make their views heard peacefully.
“Security measures are being looked at and I hope we can keep the protests, if there are protests, down to loud voices, nothing violent,” he said. “We want to listen, the players want to play the game, we’re playing Liverpool and, of course, we want to beat Liverpool, and we want to beat Leicester, so we’re going to do everything we can for our fans to celebrate what we’re doing on the pitch.”
Heightened security centred on the ‘Munich Tunnel’ area, where demonstrators gained access. Two rows of metal barriers have created a cordon around the Old Trafford forecourt, with an imposing red wall having been placed behind, to prevent access to the turnstile areas.
As well as breaking into Old Trafford, the Lowry Hotel in the city centre was blockaded, preventing the United team bus leaving.
United will not confirm their plans for this week’s games but supporters have promised there will be further demonstrations, certainly on Thursday.
Due to the ill feeling generated by United’s role in the failed European Super League, United co-chairman Joel Glazer penned a letter on Friday in which he promised to open dialogue with supporters’ groups.
But if his intention was to try to avoid demonstrations at this week’s games, it appears to have failed.
“We will obviously give some thought into the meeting that he attends and get feedback from supporters but what has been said already still stands: fundamentally, nothing has changed,” said Ian Stirling, co-chair of Manchester United Supporters’ Trust.
“We can understand people being cynical about what was said and there wouldn’t be any further statement at this point until something changes.
“It’s clear for everyone to see what the depth of feeling was, and still is, from supporters. We are never the organisers of supporters’ protests but what we do as an organisation is inform supporters what’s happening and what other people have planned.
“But we always support people’s right to protest peacefully. Everything that I read and hear is about a protest going ahead on Thursday. You can see that the club are prepared for that in the changes to the front of the stadium. Obviously, we would imagine the police making the same preparations as well.”
On the field, Solskjaer also has problems, due to fixture congestion which will have meant his team playing four games in a little over one week by the end of the Liverpool match.
He is expected to name a severely weakened team tonight and has confirmed youngsters, including 18-year-old forward Amad Traore, are in line for their first taste of the Premier League despite United facing fixtures against two other teams competing for a top-four finish.
To further complicate matters, United are technically in the chase for the title and could cut Manchester City’s lead at the top to four points by the time the leaders go to Newcastle on Friday.
But Solskjaer insists that not even the distant hope of a first league title in eight years will alter his selection policy.
“I wish I could have said let’s go full out in all the games but it’s impossible,” he said. “That’s the hard bit for me knowing if I do play this XI on Tuesday and then again on Thursday it’s impossible, I run too much of a risk in injuring them.”
Swedish forward Anthony Elanga was a sub for recent Europa League ties against Roma, while Shola Shoretire, another forward, and midfielder Ethan Galbraith have also been on the bench in Europe. “They’re in contention, definitely,” said Solskjaer. “I would think that some of the young boys will get an appearance definitely.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited