It’s now two weeks before Manchester United’s crucial fixture against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, where the reds need a win to keep their slim hopes of a top four position alive. However, it’s not an international break but the first ever winter break, designed to help players get some rest after a gruelling Christmas fixture list.
United’s players certainly look like they need a rest after an uninspired 0-0 draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. A victory against Wolves would have been a third victory in a row for the first time in nearly two months, and there was a real air of optimism before the match with the debut of Bruno Fernandes. Unfortunately, United dropped more points when the chance to close the gap on Chelsea had once again become a possibility.
Fernandes’ debut was one to be positive about, with the midfielder having five shots in the game with three on target. United have barely any goals from midfield in the team at the moment, as apart from Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood on 19, 12 and 10 respectively, the club’s next top scorer is Daniel James on three. Fernandes will be able to use the winter break to gel with his team-mates and hopefully get his shooting boots on.
By the end of the winter break, Solskjaer will hope to be able to call on Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay back from injury. Pogba has been missing for almost the whole campaign and after registering 16 goals in all competitions last season, it isn’t unreasonable to think that Pogba would have bridged the alarming gap in goals between the strikers and the rest of the team. McTominay in the first half of the season was one of United’s best players and it was no wonder his first return from injury resulted in wins against Tottenham and Manchester City. If McTominay could return for the match against Chelsea then it would be a huge boost.
Odion Ighalo was signed alongside Fernandes in the last week of the January transfer window and the expectation is that the Nigerian will be given the winter break to get up to speed with the English game again after playing in the slower pace of the Chinese super league since 2017. With Anthony Martial struggling in recent weeks without his strike partner Marcus Rashford, Ighalo will be needed to take the pressure off of the number nine and youngster Greenwood.
The likes of Harry Maguire, apparently playing through the pain barrier, will be able to have a break and Daniel James, out of confidence and out of form, has a chance to hit the training ground and try to rediscover the quality of performances he was putting in at the start of the season. Fred is another who has been overplayed, the Brazilian has featured in the last 13 matches over a hectic Christmas period and this winter break will be very welcome for him.
Finally, the main individual who will be looking forward to the winter break the most is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After a prosperous December his side have had a damaging January, losing key players and key games, now as February arrives the break will be a chance for pressure to alleviate if only just briefly and give Solskjaer a chance to sit down and think of a new approach to tackle the race for the top four, the Europa League knockout stages and the pursuit of the FA Cup.
Written by Alex Metcalfe