Two weeks of international football have given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more time than it takes to dissect his side’s loss to the horror at Tottenham.
That 6-1 beating at Old Trafford not only highlighted the problems at Manchester United we were already experiencing, but also one more load.
Often when pressure has mounted on Solskjaer in the past his United side have responded with good form.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had plenty of time to dwell on Man United defeated by Tottenham
It was a disastrous afternoon at Old Trafford as United were crushed 6-1 last time around
Now he needs it more than ever. After Saturday night’s visit to Newcastle United – the scene of their arguably most lackluster performance of last season – a series of intimidating matches await.
Solskjaer’s side are set to face Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal, Istanbul Basaksehir and Everton before the next international break.
The question for the manager is whether now is the time to be bold and shake things up in his squad or stick with those who have proven themselves in the hope that different players get their shape back. .
Some of Solskjaer’s selection issues for the Newcastle game will be driven by injuries and suspensions, but there is certainly room for change.
Time to get Maguire out of the firing line?
In an ideal world, Solskjaer could give his captain Harry Maguire a few weeks of vacation to regroup after a rather disastrous start to the season.
The ordeal of his conviction in Greece, a few poor performances for United and then a red card on England against Denmark – it’s not a good time for Maguire.
But with this imposing fixture list looming, there’s absolutely no way Maguire would want to take the time and little chance that Solskjaer will give him a choice.
Harry Maguire struggles for form amid disastrous start to season
Maguire was sent off for England against Denmark in the latest setback of his campaign
As Maguire will be suspended for England’s Nations League matches against Iceland and Belgium next month, he can then take a break.
Until then, Solskjaer will just have to hope that his main center-half can somehow get back into shape against top-class opponents.
However, as Solskjaer hinted at his press conference on Friday morning, there could be forced changes to his central defensive duo at St James’ Park.
Maguire was seen holding the back of the leg a few minutes before receiving his second yellow card and Solskjaer confirmed a ‘flick’ which will require a late fitness test.
Solskjaer could accompany Victor Lindelof (left) and Eric Bailly (right) as center-backs
Man United schedule
Premier League unless otherwise specified
Saturday Newcastle United (A)
Mardi Paris Saint-Germain (A)
Champions League group stage
October 24 Chelsea (H)
October 28 RB Leipzig (H)
Champions League group stage
November, 1st Arsenal (H)
November 4 Istanbul Basaksehir (A)
Champions League group stage
United are already without Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe, leaving their most likely center-back pair with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof.
Lindelof started the first two Premier League games of the season alongside Maguire before Bailly came in to replace him for the Spurs debacle.
Bailly and Lindelof aren’t complete strangers, however, as they teamed up in the EFL Cup draw at Brighton late last month and managed to keep a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory.
But Newcastle will be a much more difficult proposition for the understaffed Brighton and United fans who are already watching from behind their hands with Maguire in the squad are unlikely to feel much more confident in his absence.
Do without Pogba?
It was an equally terrible start to the season for Paul Pogba. After testing positive for the coronavirus, his return to action was marked by poor performances against Crystal Palace and Tottenham.
Then Pogba went on an international mission with France and again spoke of his “dream” of playing for Real Madrid.
Now reports suggest Pogba is unhappy playing so deep in the United midfielder and he wants the more advanced role played by Bruno Fernandes.
The problem is, Fernandes has been exceptional since arriving at Old Trafford in January and Pogba has not.
Paul Pogba could be sacked for Newcastle game after struggling to find form early in the season
Solskjaer could give Donny van de Beek his first Premier League start to find more balance
So if Solskjaer felt bold, Pogba would be dropped for Newcastle’s game with Fernandes as No 10, Nemanja Matic as the holding player and Donny van de Beek operating between them.
Pogba’s natural inclination is to move forward, but when he’s supposed to be more disciplined in a retired role it can leave United on the penalty kill when teams attack.
Van de Beek is more likely to offer this discipline, but so far he has been limited to three substitutes for a total of just 46 minutes in the Premier League as Solskjaer facilitates in the English game.
So surely it is time for Van de Beek to make his full league debut and Pogba is much more likely to give way than Fernandes.
Time for Such?
With the transfer deadline coming right after United’s last game and with the club leaving pretty much all of their stuff until the eleventh hour, the newcomers are yet to be in action.
Forward Edinson Cavani is still in quarantine and therefore cannot play against Newcastle and Facundo Pellistri is unlikely to be involved.
But Alex Telles could play well despite turning the world around to play for Brazil against Peru in a World Cup qualifier midweek.
Alex Telles is unveiled as United player after his move from Porto late in the window
Telles played for Brazil in their World Cup qualifier against Peru before returning to England
His arrival from Porto offers competition to Luke Shaw at left-back and given Shaw’s struggles so far this season, many United fans would be keen to see Telles thrown straight away.
It would certainly be a bold move by Solskjaer as he has yet to have time to work with Telles on the training ground.
But given United’s urgent need for both strengthening at the back and a bit more creativity going forward, perhaps Such is the man to make an instant impact.
Luke Shaw (right) could lose his top United left-back position after poor form
Greenwood to lead the line?
With Cavani taking no risks amid the Covid-19 crisis and Anthony Martial suspended after his red card against Spurs, Solskjaer needs someone to lead the line on Saturday night.
Odion Ighalo has only played nine minutes of Premier League football so far this season and hasn’t made much of an impression in both Carabao Cup games.
This could therefore open the door for Mason Greenwood to leave his usual bunk on the right side to lead the line.
Mason Greenwood (right) could have the chance to play as United center-forward
Anthony Martial suspended for Newcastle trip following red card against Spurs
Greenwood is a natural center-forward and clinical finisher, so Solskjaer is reportedly backing the teenager to give United a head start.
He hasn’t had the biggest impact in his three Premier League games so far, but no one has covered themselves in glory.
If Greenwood moves there, it will likely allow Dan James to make an exit on the safe side.
Manchester United squad vs Tottenham
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Possible squad lineup against Newcastle United
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Lindelof, Telles; Matic, Van de Beek; James, Fernandes, Rashford; Greenwood