Manchester United’s Carabao Cup Cup quarter-final is a big opportunity for the team to move closer to winning silverware.
It is also a chance to experiment outside of normalcy of the Premier League, amid a packed fixture schedule. There will be a good amount of rotation.
One of the most intriguing options is at centre-back, and how far Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is prepared to go in terms of rotating the squad.
There is a case to be explored for starting both Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe, two top central defenders who have barely seen action lately.
Both players need opportunities
Axel Tuanzebe’s last start came against Istanbul Basaksehir away in early November. This was one of just two starts he has made this season.
Eric Bailly’s last appearance was even further back in the home defeat to Tottenham at the beginning of October.
Tuanzebe has made three substitute appearances since but neither player have been trusted after disappointing losses in their last starts. It would also be a little unfair to scapegoat either of them for the Spurs or Istanbul losses, but that appears to an extent to have been what happened.
Both of them have positives performances too this season. Tuanzebe in Paris, and Bailly in his previous two Carabao Cup appearances which were clean sheets.
Solskjaer needs to get more out of the duo and playing them together saves him the choice of having to choose between them.
Lindelof and Maguire need rest
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof both need rest and have big upcoming games against Leicester and Wolves.
If Solskjaer is reluctant to play one of Eric Bailly or Axel Tuanzebe, let alone both, in the cup, what would he do if one of Maguire or Lindelof got injured in this game?
Maguire has played more football than any other player this season in the world in 2020, the club website reported.
Meanwhile Lindelof told PA this week he has been playing through back and knee injuries.
It makes too much sense to rest both of them in this scenario, days after they each played two games in a four day stretch.
Aerial strength suited to combat Everton
Everton’s strength is no secret, striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin will put our centre-backs in for a real game and challenge for every ball. Why put Maguire and Lindelof through this kind of physical match-up when there are alternatives?
Both Bailly and Tuanzebe are strong in the air and each of them have good recovery pace.
It is what makes them such an interesting pairing together. This is a good game to assess both, and that’s what Solskjaer needs, not an easy cup tie against lower league opposition where they can cruise through without making a tackle.
Motivation and new solutions
Both Bailly and Tuanzebe are fighting for their futures amid ongoing speculation United could look at new centre-backs.
Each of them have a real point to prove, and if they can come through it, then Solskjaer will be more likely to call on them in Premier League fixtures.
If they do feel slighted and like scapegoats for previous bad results in which they played, then they will be determined to make this opportunity count.
Solskjaer will most likely go for one of them, possibly Maguire and Tuanzebe, rather than going all out and playing both together. That would be a shame, although in a cup quarter-final, it would be understandable for the boss to be wary of making too many changes.
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