The first International break of the 2019/20 season is coming to a close. Manchester United have had a few of their prominent players go away to play with their National Teams, while some of them have had to drop out due to injury both before and after being selected to represent their countries. United will return to action this coming weekend and their fixtures for the rest of the month will be a test of the squad as well as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s credentials as the Red Devils’ manager.
The club’s supporters will also get to see just how seriously the Norwegian will be taking the UEFA Europa League and English League Cup. Solskjaer himself will also be granted the opportunity to make good on his promise to give youth and fringe players a chance, which he made as recently as two weeks ago. Players such as Fred and Axel Tuanzebe, who have spent the break doing training of their own, as well as Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood, have been called for by the club’s fans, who will likely get to see them in action at some point this month.
United earned just one win in competitive fixtures in August and threw away points from winning positions on more than one occasion. The team has been plagued by individual errors as well as a lack of familiarity, both with new tactical plans as well as with each other, in some cases. The coming fixtures will give Solskjaer a chance to weed these problems out, something which he has no doubt spent the break brooding over.
The season has only just begun but United’s squad has already been hit by a few injuries. Regular centre-forward Anthony Martial missed their 1-1 draw away at Southampton, owing to a thigh injury sustained in the defeat against Crystal Palace. First-choice left-back Luke Shaw was forced off in the first half of that game due to a hamstring injury, adding to the lengthy list of injuries he has suffered during his time at Old Trafford.
Deputy right-back Diogo Dalot has been sidelined since pre-season with a troublesome hip injury and recently saw a specialist in China in order to overcome it. This is perhaps
Jesse Lingard dropped out of the England squad due to illness, just a few days after Aaron Wan-Bissaka did the same on account of a back injury. These injuries affecting United’s backline is particularly worrying. Over the last few months, Solskjaer has made some significant alterations to the personnel he has preferred in defence. Harry Maguire and Wan-Bissaka were signed and immediately inserted as first-choice, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have been marginalised, while Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia have departed the club.
Central defender Eric Bailly remains out with a knee injury, at least until December. Further down the line, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is still recovering from the knee injury which saw his 2018/19 season end prematurely while on loan at Fulham. Even the reserves have been deprived of defenders, as Ethan Laird suffered another injury before Lee O’Connor joined Celtic.
United’s pecking order in defence has shifted considerably over the summer and these injuries are not going to help the team or the manager. United’s early season form has also taken somewhat of a nosedive. They have scored just three goals in the last three games, that after scoring four in their first game of the season. Daniel James, current top scorer and Player of the Month for August, has played better on the left-wing than the right.
This leaves Solskjaer, who has preferred Marcus Rashford on the left as part of a double act with Martial up front, with a welcome headache. It is going to be interesting to see how Solskjaer goes about solving this dilemma, another one he will have spent some time pondering over during the break. United’s Premier League fixtures this month are going to be a tough test for this squad.
Solskjaer will likely rotate his squad for the home matches against FC Astana in the Europa League and Rochdale in the League Cup. The Norwegian will still be hoping for wins in these games, despite probably not playing his favoured teams. These competitions, of course, represent more likely avenues of success for United in 2019/20.
Winning either of these competitions also guarantees European football next season, regardless of where United finish in the league. These fixtures will come in between league matches, which include hosting Leicester City this coming weekend, a trip to the London Stadium to face West Ham United, as well as a clash against rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford, on the last night of the month.
It is worth reiterating that Solskjaer has effectively only had just a single transfer window as United manager. With it, he has managed to refresh the squad to some extent and he will be hoping for more of the same in the coming windows. This past summer, he changed both United’s training regime and playing style and he has yet to fully reap the benefits of the changes thus far.
Written by Shiven Nayager