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Mar 12, 2020 at 5.55pm UK at Linzer Stadion
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "would understand" if season ended early due to coronavirus outbreak

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
© Reuters
United's Europa League last 16 first leg at LASK will be played behind closed doors.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would understand if the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.

Football matches are being forced behind closed doors and even suspended across the continent in a bid to quell the alarming spread of Covid-19.

United’s Europa League last 16 first leg at LASK is among those affected, with the Austrian authorities announcing restrictions on Tuesday that will mean only 500 people can attend Thursday’s Linzer Stadion clash.

The Old Trafford giants released a statement on the eve of the match saying that “all home matches are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned”, with the club monitoring the evolving situation.

But the spectre of English football being forced to shut up shop looms large and huge question marks are hanging over competitions, both at club and international level.

Asked if he would understand it if the Europa League and Premier League were cut short and not played out, United boss Solskjaer said: “I would understand yes, under the circumstances.

There are no plans in place to play the return leg at Old Trafford behind closed doors
There are no plans in place to play the return leg at Old Trafford behind closed doors (Nick Potts/PA)

“It’s up to the experts to decide and the main concern must be the health of the general public and the decision that will be made we’ll back.”

Solskjaer faced the media just 90 minutes after the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, with the virus dominating the press conference previewing the LASK match.

“The players are focused and just concentrated on the job,” the United boss said ahead of leading his side out at a near empty ground.

“Of course, these are difficult circumstances – not just for football, but in the whole society.

“So, for us, we just have to do what we’re told and get on with the game if the authorities think that’s what we should do.

“We are going to have to create our own atmosphere within the team, within the game.

“They are used to training with no spectators anyway and we do have some behind closed doors friendlies at times.

“I am in no doubt that my players are focused and ready to perform, even if there’s no spectators there.”

Solskjaer does not believe any of his players have been tested for coronavirus and the United boss is unaware of any plans to play next week’s return leg behind closed doors at Old Trafford.

The former striker joked he is used to such surroundings from his time playing in Norway and academy graduate Scott McTominay is ready for the peculiarities of Thursday’s match.

“Whenever you’re growing up and you’re playing under-18 games, reserve team games, you’re used to playing in front of lesser crowds than when you get to the first team,” said the homegrown midfielder, who brushed aside a question about rivals Liverpool being denied the title by the virus.

“We play in front of 75,000 people at Old Trafford, so obviously it will be strange playing a first-team game like that.

“But, for the boys, we just have to keep focused, keep the mentality the same and just keep doing what we’ve been doing and obviously that’s trying to win football matches.

Anthony Martial is a doubt
Anthony Martial is a doubt (Nick Potts/PA)

“So, for us, not really an awful lot changes but it is a real shame that obviously the fans from both sides can’t come and hopefully we get it sorted as soon as possible.”

The empty Linzer Stadion could not contrast more to a heaving Old Trafford, where McTominay completed a memorable 2-0 win against neighbours Manchester City at the death on Sunday.

Anthony Martial scored the other goal but is among the absentees in Austria, while Solskjaer revealed Paul Pogba is not ready for full training as he recovers from a long-standing ankle issue.

“Anthony hurt himself when he slid into the post, so he’s not ready for this game,” the United boss said.

“Hopefully he can be ready for Sunday (against Tottenham) but I’m not sure. He’s struggling a little bit.

“Paul is getting closer. But today he wasn’t with the team. He’s not trained with the team yet, or fully with the team, so by next week he’ll be ready.”

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