It seems unthinkable that just a few weeks ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to be holding on to his job as manager of Manchester United by the skin of his teeth.
The fact that United fans, journalists and pundits all feel that the Red Devils should have won today’s game against Liverpool to send them six points clear is a testament to how much progress has been made in a short space of time.
A look at the United bench today shows how well the Norwegian has built a strong squad with cover in all positions despite not always being supported by the board during transfer season.
Solskjaer even seems to have converted what appeared to be a shambolic defence littered with individual errors by the goalkeeper and centre backs into a confident unit that held one of the world’s most potent attacks at bay today.
However, there was a sense at the end of the game that the boss perhaps is still not quite getting one thing right, and that is rotation and substitutions.
The two substitutions he did make – Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood – could have changed the game, but Cavani should arguably have started the game and Greenwood should have been given far more than the one minute he was given.
Solskjaer still seems scared to rest certain players and those players are already starting to look jaded with less than half of the season completed.
Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes are all desperately short of their best form and yet their three natural replacements – Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Donny van de Beek, rarely get minutes on the pitch – particularly the latter two.
It is understandable that Solskjaer opted for Rashford and Martial ahead of Cavani today, believing that pace on the counter-attack could be the key to pinching three points against Liverpool.
But Martial was arguably not 100% fit after sustaining a groin injury against Burnley and that fact, coupled with his poor form recently, should have been enough for the manager to trust Cavani or, at least give Greenwood a run.
Rashford has started every Premier League game this season bar one – in which he came on at half-time – and has played some minutes in every single one of United’s European and domestic cup games. He is clearly tired.
Fernandes has played almost as often as Rashford, having missed just one EFL Cup and one FA Cup game. He, likewise, looks tired and overplayed.
The short three-week gap between a hectic end to last season and the start of this should also be taken into account, especially when the same stars were played incessantly in that post-lockdown period.
There will, no doubt, be rotation in the coming week, with a midweek fixture at struggling Fulham followed by an FA Cup match – even though that is against Liverpool. But if this United side is going to go all the way this season, that rotation needs to be meaningful and real and be available in big matches as well as less important ones.
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