Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot see Paul Pogba leaving Manchester United this summer and expects the mercurial midfielder to put his stamp on Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
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 LaLiga giants Real Madrid are being widely touted as a summer destination for Pogba, but Solskjaer 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 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, Solskjaer 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?” Solskjaer 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) Mbappe.
“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.”
Gerard Pique is delighted to see ex-Manchester United team-mate Solskjaer flourishing at Old Trafford – but the Barcelona defender is determined to kill off his former club’s Champions League dreams.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest defenders in the world, the 31-year-old made his first steps in the professional game in the north west over a period that he remains eternally grateful for.
Pique joined from Barca aged 17 and went from a boy to a man at United, learning a lot on the field and off it before returning to the LaLiga giants in 2008.
Solskjaer was one of the senior pros as the centre-back came through the ranks and the Barca defender has been impressed by the work being done by someone he looked up to.
“I remember him as a great team-mate when I arrived here,” Pique said.
“I was 17, very young and he was one of the veterans and, for sure, he helped me a lot to adapt to the club, to the country, to the city.
“He was at the end of his career and he had some problems with his injuries, but when you were training with him you could see he had that quality to score goals.
“It was a great experience playing alongside him. He helped me a lot and I’m very happy to see him in now charge of the club, of Manchester United.
“He is doing a great job since he took charge of the team.
“They have won a lot of games, they are playing much better and tomorrow is going to be a tough game and I hope we can win.”