After the dreadful defeat against Watford, Manchester United face an incredibly busy and very much important run of fixtures over the Christmas period. Despite having such a poor start to the season, United are still in contention in three of the four competitions they remain in.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been relieved of his position as manager, which now adds another dimension to the games in the upcoming festive period. If whoever comes in is to turn fortunes around, he’s going to have to use the full extent of the available squad.
Squad rotation has always been of highest importance over the Christmas period in successful campaigns, and for United it may well just freshen things up this season.
There’s no getting away from the fact that United have disappointed so far this season; expectations were sky high with an excellent transfer window over the summer. Unfortunately, even Cristiano Ronaldo’s storybook return has failed to inspire United to the heights that many predicted they would reach this year, although there is still time to turn it around.
Poor form from club captain Harry Maguire and Euro 2020-star Luke Shaw hasn’t helped, while recent injuries to French duo Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba had only compounded Solskjaer’s woes. Despite this, it can’t be ignored that the Norwegian has had his worst run in management at the club- the fact that he still had a job up until the Watford defeat was questionable to a large part of the United fanbase.
Solskjaer’s downfall hasn’t just been due to the form of underperforming players or injuries though, a more glaring issue was his unwillingness to rotate the squad more often. A prominent example of this is the exodus of Donny van de Beek, the young Dutchman has been touted as one of the world’s most promising midfielders yet has been afforded little opportunity in his United career thus far.
The midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Brazilian Fred has been the go-to over Solskjaer’s tenure, but it’s clear to everyone that this isn’t good enough for the level United aspire to be at.
While Van de Beek may finally get his chance due to an injury to Pogba, other fringe players such as Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Jadon Sancho must be utilised if United are to come through the Christmas period unscathed.
The quality of the three aforementioned players has been called into question before, with Jadon Sancho deserving the most slack being the newest arrival, but these players will have to be rotated in if United are to have the legs to endure the frequency of playing every three days.
To some teams, disruption like this can throw the squad off balance and lead to negative results, however to United – currently an unbalanced and unsure squad, it could have the opposite effect. Solskjaer’s dismissal may also improve the chances of these players coming in, a new manager with a fresh set of eyes will likely give everyone another chance to impress, so hopes will be high amongst the fringe players in the squad.
United face a gruelling schedule over November and December, and a particularly daunting run over the next two weeks. A trip to Spain against Villarreal is on the cards on Tuesday in the Champions League, followed by an away game against Chelsea. United then face Arsenal four days later at Old Trafford while also playing again on the Sunday against Crystal Palace.
It’s clear that this period is full of challenging fixtures, and with no established manager in charge as of yet it could be a case of United weathering the storm rather than playing brilliant football.
However, if the club manages to find the right manager to come in over the next week or so and comes through the period of games in late November relatively unscathed then United may be able to claw some points back, as the run of games in December is favourable on paper:
United Fixtures: December 8 Onwards:
Young Boys (H/CL) – December 8
Norwich City (A) – December 11
Brentford (A) – December 14
Brighton and Hove Albion (H) – December 18
Newcastle United (A) – December 27
Burnley (H) – December 30
Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) – January 3
The game against Young Boys could be a pivotal clash as United look to secure Champions League progression from the group, but the games after this look very winnable. United playing to their best must be beating the likes of Norwich, Burnley, Newcastle, and Wolves, while Brentford and Brighton are winnable games too, despite them being tricky opponents this season.
United need to look to pick up 15 points or 12 at the minimum during this period, to ensure at the least they stay well within contention for the top four.
As United now move beyond Solskjaer, the next manager must try to freshen the defeatist atmosphere amongst the team at the current moment. It’s a time for fresh eyes and equal opportunities for players, but also surely the time for old favourites such as Fred and Scott McTominay to be rotated far more frequently, as the busy schedule demands it.
If the new manager ensures he puts out a fresh, highly motivated team each week, then there’s no reason why good results won’t follow, and United fans should have some cause to celebrate over the festive period.
Written by Sam Wilson