Former Manchester United full-back Denis Irwin believes that Jose Mourinho will need to take some risks at Manchester United over the next few months.
The Portuguese’s side, now in the process of preparing for a Europa League last 16 tie with FC Rostov and an FA Cup quarter final against Chelsea in the space of four days, have already played a total of 44 games this season.
They could play a total of 66 games this season if they reach the final of both aforementioned competitions – three more than the treble winning side of 1999.
And Irwin, who made 48 appearances during that campaign, has noted that Mourinho will need to make some calculated gambles over the next few months.
“You’d love to play every game but I think that’s almost impossible, particularly for the front players who need to be at their sharpest,” he said.
“That’s down to the manager, when he wants to freshen it up. Certainly in 99, Sir Alex freshened it up quite a bit. I remember a semi-final replay against Arsenal where he rested quite a few. You have to take a risk somewhere along the line but that’s down to the manager.
“We’ve got a fine squad and we’ll have to see what happens. When you get momentum it’s a very strong leverage to have.
“I remember in 1999 we just kept playing and got on a run but I never thought it end up like it did.
“I don’t think that at any point I thought it was manageable because of the amount of games we had. I don’t like the phrase but you take each game as it comes and see how it works out.
“But I think the manager will utilise as many players as possible. It always helps that you’ve got two men to every position, great that there hasn’t been that many injuries in the last three or four months – I think that’s a big thing.
“You’re going to get suspensions, you’re going to pick up injuries, that’s going to happen. You just hope as many of the squad stay as injury-free as possible.”
Mourinho is no stranger to the situation he finds himself in at Old Trafford. Inter Milan’s treble-winning 2009/10 season, for example, comprised of 57 games, with the Italian side losing just one of their last 13 games.
This is where the Portuguese really comes into his own: pressurised, high-octane situations that demand extreme levels of pragmatism, with every substitution, selection and team meeting calculated with meticulous design. Where United will end up come May remains uncertain, but supporters can bank on a truly explosive conclusion to the season.