Manchester United touched down in Germany on Sunday for the final leg of a Europa League campaign that has lasted the best part of a year and taken Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players from Kazakhstan to Cologne.
The stakes for Monday's one-off quarter-final against FC Copenhagen are not as high as they could have been, given that United have already qualified for next season’s Champions League.
The empty RheinEnergie Stadion in Cologne will do little to enhance the sense of occasion either as United face the prospect of three games behind closed doors at the 50,000-seater arena if they reach the final on August 21.
Manchester United touched down in Germany on Sunday for the final leg of the Europa League
Expected line-ups for the match between Manchester United and Copenhagen
But having come this far and taken so long to get to here, Solskjaer believes that winning the Europa League for the second time in four years will still mean just as much to the club.
‘We’re in a strange period and strange times, but we’ve got to make the most of it,’ said the United manager last night.
‘If we are able to go through to the semis and the final, it would mean a lot to the players, the club the supporters and the staff. We just have to make the best of a difficult situation.
‘It’s not football as it should be. It’s changed a little bit. That passion and edge to the game is missing – the fans have to be there.
‘But I have to commend our players, they’ve handled the situation really well. We have to make the most of this Europa League and get as far as we can.’
The empty RheinEnergie Stadion in Cologne will do little to enhance the sense of occasion
United are faced with a 13-day lockdown in Cologne if they go all the way to the final, not to mention the prospect of slumming it at fourth division Fortuna Koln’s training ground.
But Solskjaer isn’t getting too far ahead of himself. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,’ he added.
‘We have plans in place but, for me, it’s only about this game. It’s a knockout tournament and if you don’t