Manchester United’s return to Premier League action is nearly here. The squad have been busy preparing to face Chelsea on Monday night.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a pretty healthy squad to choose from, with Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe nearing returns from injury.
While this game will likely come too soon for both, it’s a crucial one, with the chance to cut Chelsea’s six point advantage over us down to three.
Here is a look at five tricky decisions facing Solskjaer ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge.
Two central defenders or three?
A theme of United’s big games this season has been that three centre-backs have been selected in some of them..
These included both games away at Liverpool, the Carabao Cup second leg against Manchester City, a 1-0 victory.
United have had success with four at the back though, arguably more. A 4-2-3-1 formation was used to beat Chelsea at home earlier this season – but three at the back brought success away from home.
4-2-3-1 was used in wins over Tottenham and City in the Premier League.
Solskjaer has a dilemma here which will shape the rest of his team selection.
Who would be the third centre-back?
If United did choose to play three central defenders, the third player to line up alongside Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf is uncertain.
Eric Bailly is the best player available, but he has not kicked a ball yet this season for United. It would be a big game to return in.
Solskjaer has used Luke Shaw as a centre-back in games against Liverpool and Manchester City and he has performed well, even if it has felt like just a temporary option.
Shaw might get the nod here, while Tuanzebe is a long shot, given that he has only just returned to training.
In the win at Stamford Bridge in October, Marcos Rojo was the third centre-back.
One striker or two, and which pairing?
Anthony Martial has looked like he has needed help recently and it might make sense to play another striker up front with him.
Playing three central defenders may enable this if United go with a 3-4-1-2 formation.
In this event, Solskjaer would have to choose between teenager Mason Greenwood and loanee Odion Ighalo, who would be making his debut.
The manager may not know the answer to this yet as it could depend on how fit Ighalo looks in training over the weekend.
If one striker, who starts out wide?
A 4-2-3-1 formation has been United’s most used approach under Solskjaer.
If Martial is picked as a lone striker, then he could be flanked by Dan James on the left and Mason Greenwood on the right.
A less than satisfactory option but a very possible one is that Andreas Pereira or Juan Mata are played out wide.
In the event Odion Ighalo is selected as a central striker, Anthony Martial could be selected in his once familiar position on the left wing.
Does the midfield finally pick itself?
For one week, United may have an easy selection in central midfield.
Nemanja Matic is back from suspension, and is likely to partner Fred, with Bruno Fernandes as the attacking midfielder.
This is a well balanced trio and it could be effective. Matic should relish going up against his former club.
The selection will become more complicated when Scott McTominay is ready to return, and Paul Pogba.
Hopefully Solskjaer doesn’t do anything crazy and select Fernandes as a winger and Andreas in attacking midfield.
Who at left-back?
Most probably this will be Brandon Williams, certainly if Luke Shaw is part of a back three.
But Solskjaer has shown he likes Shaw, picking him in the Manchester derby last month.
The manager will also have an eye on the Europa League tie on Thursday night.
He rotated Williams a lot in the first part of the season and it’s possible he saves the youngster for that one, although his excellent performance at Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup counts in the 19-year-old’s favour.
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