Barring any last minute hitches, Manchester United will play two friendly matches against West Bromwich Albion later today.
These are games to get United back up to speed ahead of the Premier League season, with the Red Devils’ first game one week away.
A planned match between United and Stoke City was cancelled at the last minute this week after a health scare regarding a positive test for opposition boss Michael O’Neill.
So two games will take place at Old Trafford later today, which will help United prepare to play Premier League games behind closed doors at the stadium.
West Brom are second in the Championship and should be able to be competitive. United will split the team over the two games, enabling all the players to pick up the game time they need.
Here is a look at five questions manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking at…
Are the players fit enough?
For two months United’s players were forced to train individually and only over the past three weeks have they been able to join back up again as a group.
While it is possible to keep up with fitness drills over short distances, running non-stop for 90 minutes is a different test.
Solskjaer may feel he has a fit squad, but there could be one or two unwelcome surprises today if it seems some of the players are off the pace.
In addition to the fitness issue, is one of match sharpness. Who will find out their touch has temporarily deserted them? Who does not have the confidence and zip they had pre-lockdown?
Playing friendly matches against each other is one thing. Going up against another team is another. If anybody is not fully fit yet, it will be exposed.
Can the players escape without injuries?
Barring Phil Jones, Manchester United have a fully fit squad to choose from.
After an injury plagued season, we really need it to stay that way ahead of the Premier League returning next week. It would be a cruel blow if anybody suffered an injury now.
These friendlies are designed as a beneficial exercise, to help United develop their sharpness and fitness.
If a key player goes down injured, United will end up regretting ever arranging them.
Of most concern will be Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, who have just recovered from spells out injured.
United’s players have probably been going a bit easy on them in training. West Brom’s players will not have that same interest.
So far both players have held up well. This is a key test for both ahead of the Premier League opener next week.
Will the team keep up clean sheet resilience?
While the results of these friendlies are not in the least bit important, it would be impressive to see United keep two clean sheets.
Pre-lockdown, the defence was in amazing form, conceding just two goals in 11 games, one of which was David de Gea’s bizarre error against Everton.
Much of that momentum has been lost due to the three month break, which makes it important that United attempt to recover it ahead of important Premier League games.
That’s why United must take these games seriously, and try to finish both matches without conceding a goal. That would quickly get the unbeatable feeling back which the team appeared to take on.
It might not be easy, as United may split the best defensive pairings over the two fixtures, and further cloud the issue with substitutions.
Whoever plays and whichever the combinations, the aim should be the same, to protect the goal at all costs.
If United can get this right today, it will put an extra spark back into the side ahead of next week.
Can anybody change Solskjaer’s mind?
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not know his team to start next Friday against Tottenham just yet, he will be pretty close to it.
So this could be one of the last chances for a few of the expected substitutes to change the manager’s mind.
What if Odion Ighalo or Mason Greenwood smash in a hat-trick. Could one of them suddenly usurp Anthony Martial from the starting line up?
Will any of the youngsters like Angel Gomes, James Garner or Tahith Chong complicate Solskjaer’s planning by delivering match-winning performances?
Or could a Scott McTominay, Brandon Williams or Eric Bailly, fringe starters, make a serious case to dislodge Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw or Victor Lindelof?
Solskjaer should have an open mind, and even if his mind is made up for the Spurs game, United have three games to follow in the remaining 11 days of June.
These matches represent a big chance for everybody to try and stake their claims, and they should be very competitive.
Can Pogba and Fernandes show a spark?
Now we do not know for sure if Pogba and Fernandes will play together later today.
There are a couple of reasons not to. A) To keep the talent even across both friendlies, and B) to keep the tactics a secret for the opening game in case of any prying eyes.
But considering the two players have never played a competitive fixture together, it also makes sense for United to try them out together, even if just for 45 minutes.
Solskjaer will have a vision for how they will work together, and he will want to see if they hit it off.
The two midfielders are among the most creative in the Premier League and they could rip teams apart. It would be great to see an instant spark if they take to the pitch together at Old Trafford later on.
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