Updated: June 9, 2020 3:23:20 pm
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be quietly smiling. For a significant part of the season, the Manchester United manager had to deal with injury concerns. Now, at a time when the Premier League has allowed five substitutions per match, Solskjaer can revel in an embarrassment of riches. Nine matches to go and United are placed fifth at the moment with 45 points, just three off Chelsea in the final Champions League spot.
“We have had time out so I don’t think we can expect that those lads who have missed lots of the football can last the full game. But now the rules have changed, we can use five subs and have nine on the bench,” Solskjaer recently told the United website. He added: “I think that’s helpful because footballers, after being out for so long, going into competitive games will be a challenge for them and we have to look after them injury-wise and fitness-wise. We can’t just flog one player and say to them, ‘you play every game and every minute’, because it might be a period when we have to rotate quite often.”
The Premier League is restarting on June 17 and United will play their first match, after a three-month hiatus, against Tottenham Hotspur on June 19. The five substitutions rule will obviously help the ‘big six’ – Liverpool, Manchester City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs because of their squad depth and bench strength. United arguably will benefit the most, at least on paper, for they now have both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford fit and raring to go.
Pogba’s season has been blighted by injury. He played just seven matches this term before undergoing surgery on his injured ankle in January. At £89 million, United’s most expensive buy is now ready to return and form a midfield axis with the excellent Bruno Fernandes. Rashford, an inspirational figure during the Covid-forced lockdown – raising funds to serve free meals to vulnerable children and other charity works – hasn’t played since
mid-January after suffering a back injury.
EXPLAINED | How will the ‘Big Six’ benefit from new rule?
As per reports, he is steadily getting into the groove at United’s Carrington training base. According to Solskjaer, both Pogba and Rashford are good to go. “They are looking good, they have joined training now and they have done everything the other boys have been doing,” the manager told the club’s official portal.
With the world-class duo coming back, United now have an awesome bench to choose from. Their midfield reads: Pogba, Fernandes, Juan Mata, Fred, Nemanja Matic, and Scott McTominay in the top rung, with Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, James Garner and Angel Gomes providing back-up. The combined acquisition value, transfer fee-wise, of this midfield is in excess of £285 million.
McTominay, Lingard, Pereira, Garner, and Gomes are academy graduates.
As far as the forward line is concerned, Solskjaer will have his talisman Rashford back and he can once again pair him up with Anthony Martial. Against tired legs, he can also unleash Daniel James’s pace, Mason Greenwood’s precision, and Odion Ighalo’s poaching.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United have punched way above their weight this term to fight for a top-four finish. Both are on 43 points. Leicester City, at No. 3, have 53. But let alone the surprise packages, even Spurs or Chelsea can’t match United’s bench strength. Steven Bergwijn is Spurs’ only signing of note, while Chelsea were hit by a transfer ban at the start of the season.
Only Manchester City can boast of a squad as deep and expensive as their cross-town rivals. As Telegraph Sport pointed out, Pep Guardiola could turn to a bench that costs around £173 million. With City facing a two-season European ban – proceedings related to their appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) began on Monday – there’s every possibility that the team finishing fifth in the Premier League would qualify for next season’s Champions League. Given that Liverpool are champions-elect – they need just two more wins to secure the title – the top-four race would be the league’s prime attraction following the restart.
With five substitutions permitted, a Champions League spot is United’s to lose.
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