They say that necessity is the mother of invention and Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be wise to adopt that philosophy this evening and use a difficult situation to his advantage.
A tired and beleaguered United side travel to Turin for a Europa League clash with Real Sociedad having played two games a week, every single week since the middle of November.
Solskjaer is sure to be without Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba and is sweating over the fitness of Scott McTominay and Anthony Martial, so tonight’s encounter could represent the first real injury crisis of the current campaign.
But the fact is, maybe that is a good thing. Having gone on a fantastic run that saw them briefly top the Premier League table, United have started to stutter again and it’s one of those occasions when you see Solskjaer wary, unable, unwilling or even afraid to change things up and inject some new ideas and energy into his side.
It is hard to know whether the manager is right or wrong to stick by players, formations and formulas when they start to misfire, but it does leave the side pretty one dimensional when it comes to options.
David de Gea, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have all been struggling for form in recent weeks and yet, with the occasional exception of Martial and the odd bone tossed to wannabee number one Dean Henderson, the boss has religiously continued to pick them no matter what.
Lindelof has been struggling with an ongoing back condition, Rashford had (and maybe still has) a similar, needs-to-be-monitored shoulder problem, Maguire has played virtually every minute of every game and looks exhausted and despite the injuries to others, they need to be rested. Tonight is arguably the time to do it.
Let’s see Henderson, Axel Tuanzebe, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Amad Diallo given another chance. Let’s see Mason Greenwood up top. Let’s see a refreshed and young United side given a chance to show what they can do.
More importantly, if they do well, Solskjaer needs to reward that. All too often we have seen rotated players come in and do well, only to be replaced by the rested, off-form players simply, it seems, due to a pecking order.
If Dean Henderson performs well, isn’t it time to give him a run of games in goal? If either Tuanzebe or Bailly starts and they do well at the back, keep them in the team. If Amad gets a run out and impresses, give him 20 minutes off the bench against Newcastle on Sunday.
There is an immense amount of talent that is under-used at United. Some players are able to be swapped in and out and perform at their best, but most need a little run to find their rhythm and show what they can really do. Tuanzebe and Henderson, for example, are both 23 years old. They’re not youngsters. The fact that they are from the Academy doesn’t mean they should be held back for ever. If they play well, there is no reason to pull them back out and expect them to sit on the bench at the stage in their careers when they should be playing every week.
There is a difference between true rotation and just replacing members of your first choice XI with a stand-in for the odd game. Some of the best Ferguson sides were those when nobody even knew who Sir Alex considered to be his best XI. For Solskjaer to take that next step up, he needs to see his squad as a squad, not an XI plus stand-ins, and pick his teams based on merit rather than incumbency.
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