With there being a very limited cool-off time between the recently finished Premier League season and the next one, the Europa League presents a little of a dilemma for Manchester United.
Fortunately the pressure of having to win it to qualify for the Champions League is off, so United can field a slightly weakened side, to save some of the regular starters for the 2020/21 season.
Another piece of good news for United is that Solskjaer’s over-reliance on his preferred starting XI in the Premier League means there are plenty of fresh legs in the squad.
Several of them will be highly motivated to prove a point too, that they were harshly overlooked in the league.
The first Europa League game against LASK is a dead rubber with United already 5-0 up, and that will be a very experimental team. A few youngsters will get their chances, with Tahith Chong, Teden Mengi and James Garner among those hoping to impress.
After that will be a quarter-final against either Copenhagen and Istanbul Basaksehir, and that will be serious. A knockout tie with a place in the last four on the line.
Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are among the players needing a rest.
Instead Solskjaer will look at a backbone of at least six players to anchor the Europa League efforts around.
Whether this was a deliberate plan dating back to May is unclear, but having got to the end of July and looking at the numbers of games played and not played during the Premier League, it is quite clear these six will have prominent roles.
Manchester United’s key Europa League players
- Sergio Romero
Romero has been United’s Europa League goalkeeper for almost the entire tournament so far. He won the competition in 2017, and United owe him, having overlooked him for the FA Cup semi-final.
- Eric Bailly
Bailly has not played as many games as he would have liked since returning in February, with just one Premier League start. This tournament is a chance for him to shine.
- Scott McTominay
McTominay was a player of the season contender before getting injured back in December. He started only two league matches since the restart and will be raring to go.
Another player of the season candidate who lost steam after the restart, Fred only started one league game. He will be keen to make an impact and stake a claim for more involvement next season.
- Juan Mata
Mata was hitting form before the lockdown, shining in Europa League knockout ties against Bruges and LASK. His experience will be vital, and he is also rested, having started only one match since the restart.
- Odion Ighalo
This is the ideal tournament for Ighalo to shine, and try and win a trophy during his time at the club. He can give Anthony Martial a rest, and add to the goals he scored in previous knockout rounds.
Others must play their way in
These six players will form the core of the team for the quarter-final, and it is up to others to earn a spot for this match with strong performances against LASK in the last 16 second leg.
If the likes of Jesse Lingard, Dan James, Andreas Pereira and Diogo Dalot shine then they can force their way in, but if they are outplayed by younger players like Tahith Chong, James Garner or Ethan Laird, then they could win starting roles.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah will also be looking to earn a place, while in defence a lack of alternatives should give exciting teenager Teden Mengi the opportunity to make his debut against LASK alongside Bailly.
This could be an exciting tournament for fans to watch, but if the fill-in players do not perform well, then it will underline longstanding concerns about squad depth.
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