Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hinted there may be changes to the starting lineup for this afternoon’s match against Bournemouth, but also confessed it would be nice to field the same eleven who impressed so much against Sheffield United and Brighton.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference, the boss admitted:
‘There are a couple that got some knocks and bruises, if there are a couple of changes don’t be surprised just because of fitness. But there are also so many games. I’ve got to look after the players.
‘It would be nice to play a team that performed so well against Sheffield United at Old Trafford last time and played so well against Brighton, but let’s wait and see how everyone is after training, I’ve not seen them yet this morning.
‘I’ve got many many reasons to play the same team but I’ve also got a few reasons to rotate one or two that played so well earlier in the season.’
This could well mean a start for Brandon Williams and Fred, as they were two of the standout players of the season before lockdown.
Solskjaer has been playing Luke Shaw relentlessly at left back. Against Norwich in the FA Cup the boss rested eight players and had a natural replacement for Shaw in Williams, yet still played the former Southampton man.
The Norwegian also singled him out for praise earlier in the week, saying ‘Luke’s had a good upturn in form, had a spell out, and is playing some good football’.
However, the reality is that Shaw has probably been one of United’s least impressive performers since the break.
It may be that the manager has kept Shaw in the team to improve his sharpness – he is not the most naturally fit player in the side – or to boost his confidence, or both. Whatever the case, it surely makes sense now to introduce the more dynamic and energetic Williams into the starting lineup and give him a chance to stake his claim whilst Shaw recovers from his endeavours.
Fred can consider himself very unlucky to have been on the bench for the last two Premier League games, having been one of the contenders for player of the season before the break. It has purely come down to the better positional fit of Nemanja Matic alongside Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
Matic is an out-and-out defensive midfielder who is happy to sit whilst the creatives do their thing, whereas Fred is a box-to-box midfielder who is arguably not as strong in a purely defensive role.
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However, given Solskjaer’s comments about selecting those ‘who played so well earlier in the season’ and that today’s is a home game against struggling opposition, it seems logical to give Fred a run out while the Serbian recharges his batteries for Thursday’s trip to Villa Park.
If Fred and Williams do start today, they have a genuine opportunity to show the manager that they should be the first choice in their respective positions. Competition for places is the kind of problem that Solskjaer will want to have and that will help keep United sharp and focussed as this gruelling schedule continues.