Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a predicament ahead of Manchester United’s Carabao Cup tie against Chelsea.
The Norwegian goes into the trip to Stamford Bridge off the back of back-to-back away wins in Belgrade and Norwich, but he also has another away game against Bournemouth on Saturday at midday looming.
The match against Eddie Howe’s side will be United’s fourth game in 10 days and with Solskjaer’s side lacking depth, he may have to protect his star men to prevent injuries, which have already caused disruptions to our stuttering start to the campaign.
After beating Frank Lampard’s team on the opening weekend of the season, the heavyweight cup clash between two of the Premier League’s big six teams could be an energy draining evening.
We could argue that a favourable home draw against a lower league side could have allowed Solskjaer to make several changes, with a win guaranteed, but the penalty win against Rochdale showed that isn’t always the case.
Should Solskjaer target first trophy?
Pep Guardiola has shown since coming to England, the importance the Carabao Cup means to him and Manchester City, the former Bayern Munich manager’s success in the EFL Trophy two years ago, was his first for the Citizens.
Since then the club has gone from strength-to-strength, winning everything domestically.
With the final taking place in February/March, City have benefitted from the confidence and momentum lifting the trophy has brought, during the latter stages of the season, during the crucial run in.
United won the competition in the 2016/17 season, in what was Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge. We also went on to win the Europa League after prioritising the competition due to a significant drop off in league form.
Even back in 2006/07, winning the League Cup kickstarted a period of success for Sir Alex Ferguson after a barren couple of years.
Solskjaer’s primary target this season will be achieving qualification for the Champions League, either through finishing in the top four or winning the Europa League.
The Norwegian should consider the benefits of looking to win his first trophy as manager of Manchester United through the Carabao Cup.
In terms of depth, United don’t have the wealth of world class options that Guardiola has expensively assembled at City. Solskjaer may give a number of youngsters the opportunity in the biggest game of their careers to date against Chelsea.
Who could be given a rest?
Sergio Romero will be expected to retain his cup goalkeeper status in place of David de Gea.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka may be rested after playing three straight games since recovering from tonsillitis, he has completed 90 minutes against Liverpool and Norwich City, with an hour of playing time away in Belgrade sandwiched in the middle.
With Diogo Dalot struggling with injury setbacks, Ethan Laird could make his first team debut alongside the impressive Brandon Williams who will probably come in for Ashley Young.
Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire were the only United players to start and finish both the Partizan Belgrade and Norwich clashes.
United cannot afford to lose Maguire or McTominay who are the main leaders in the current side.
Maguire has added steel to a flaky United defence and McTominay is flourishing in the extended absence of Paul Pogba.
Academy graduate James Garner may build on his first senior start in Serbia by replacing the Scot.
Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo could be the chosen centre back pairing to give both Lindelöf and Maguire a rest, but also providing an experience core alonsgide Romero to help the younger players.
Solskjaer may be reluctant to risk any of his star attacking trio, James, Martial and Rashford.
That could mean recalls for Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard and a potential first senior start of the season for Mason Greenwood.
A number of changes could see a team made up of talented youngsters and experienced internationals, which are more than capable of ousting Chelsea.
But Solskjaer could be constanlty mulling over how to go with his team selection, he knows he simply cannot use the fourth-round tie as an opportunity for players to get experience and game time.
United are a win away from a place in the quarter-finals, then it’s the business end of the competition. Maybe some of the key players will be unleashed.
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