With pressure mounting on both club and manager after a dreadful start to the season and disappointment on the transfer front, this evening’s match against Luton Town is a chance for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to try something different.
Despite the fact that statistically the United defence was one of the Premier League’s best last season, the strongest doubts of all persist about that section of the team, fuelled by losing those three goals to Palace on Saturday.
Having a game against a Championship side so soon after that defeat should be seen as a blessing by Solskjaer, as it will give his squad another opportunity to gain match fitness before a difficult trip to in-form Brighton on Saturday. It is also an opportunity to experiment with a new-look defence and potentially a new formation that can ease new signing Donny van de Beek’s transition into the squad.
However, the difficulty is that with a fanbase that is turning increasingly hostile toward the club, a slip-up against a Championship side at this stage will just invite further humiliation and pressure. And Luton are flying.
While United’s season is just starting, this will be the Hatters’ fifth game of the campaign and they have won all four to date, including a defeat of Wayne Rooney’s Derby on Saturday and a 3-1 thrashing of Championship favourites Norwich City in the Carabao Cup.
To say that they will not be a push-over is therefore something of an understatement.
Solskjaer’s pattern in similar situations previously has been to field a strong team, or, at least, what he perceives to be close to his strongest side. And he is a stubborn man, sticking by the players he believes in longer than most, hoping that his faith will be rewarded by a return to form.
At some stage, however, the Norwegian has to make some braver decisions. He has to risk that humiliation to find a new formula – or at least, an alternative formula – to the tried and trusted one that he pounded to death at the end of 2019/20.
If someone plays well enough, they should be kept in the team regardless of seniority. By the same token, if someone is playing badly, they should be dropped, regardless of seniority.
Let’s see Diogo Dalot given another fair chance. Let’s see what a Bailly – Mengi partnership can do at the back. Let’s see how we look in a diamond 4-4-2 formation with Matic holding. Let’s see what Mason Greenwood can do in the centre forward position, maybe alongside Odion Ighalo in that 4-4-2D. Let’s have a look at Hannibal Mejbri for 20 minutes.
If United lose, then Solskjaer will have learned something. But if they convince, then a while new world could open up in terms of team and formation selection for what now seems a tired and predictable Man United.
Manchester United’s new star Donny van de Beek is the 13th Dutch national to play for the senior side. But how much do you know about the other 12? Take our quiz below to find out.