In the coming days, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have one of his most difficult hands as Manchester United manager.
His job? Win two matches against two top-four contenders – one of them being the club’s most bitter rivals – in 48 hours while avoiding injuries to one of its most important men.
A nightmare situation? It sure sounds like one.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already warned he has no choice but to rotate heavily for the games
As a result of the massive protests against Glazer’s property at Old Trafford just over a week ago, United’s match list has gotten its fair share of congestion at the worst possible time.
The Red Devils will now face old foes Liverpool in the rescheduled showdown in Manchester in Manchester on Thursday night, but just two days ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ FA Cup finalists, Leicester City is also on the doorstep, ready for 90 minutes of Premier League- football.
Now, after seeing his side take a sublime comeback victory on a 10-man Aston Villa on Sunday, Solskjaer is already busy with the hectic week ahead.
Big decisions will be made, with squad lists changed and certain stars summoned from stages in the darkness.
With a lot to set his sights on, Solskjaer must prove he has the know-how of an elite level manager to navigate these difficult seas and get to the other side.
Match 1 – Leicester City, Old Trafford, 6pm Tuesday
Solskjaer took the opportunity this weekend to give fellow managers a heads-up and warn that a handful of his Premier League colleagues will not be happy with his selection.
The Norwegian kept his cards close to his chest, but admitted that major changes are in order, going so far as to sketch that his actions could completely distort the race for the top four.
Of course, both Leicester and Liverpool have to compete fiercely to reach a Champions League finish this season, with the Foxes currently holding the advantage of fourth.
They are six points ahead of Liverpool, but have played one more game.
With three more games for Leicester and four for Liverpool, both teams are of course desperate for maximum points from Old Trafford.
However, Solskjaer has warned: ‘One of them may not be happy as I may be playing a full team in one and the next 11 in the other.
Solskjaer has in shape youngsters like Mason Greenwood that he can use resourcefully
‘I have to take care of the players. That might be someone who is not happy with my team selection for one or two games.
‘That could have consequences for whoever comes in fourth or for the Champions League. That’s not my problem. ‘
So the tone has been set. Solskjaer has drawn the battle lines and will now act as he sees fit.
The United boss added: “I have to think about my players, but I know there will be teams fighting for the Champions League places that won’t think,“ That’s the best Man United team on that team; those are not the best players. ”
“I can promise you it’s impossible to play 90 minutes at this intensity, at that level in the Premier League four times from Thursday to Thursday.
“That means I can’t play everyone every minute, which means we have to set priorities.”
Calling team selection is always a difficult task. Of course only Solskjaer knows which card he is going to pull out of his sleeve. However, his squad line-up in Sunday’s win over Aston Villa has dropped a big clue.
At Villa Park, United showed up almost at full strength, with the only notable absence being Edinson Cavani; who came off the bench to score.
The lesser seen Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic are expected to take on Leicester City
Axel Tuanzebe is poised to get into a heavily modified defense before the clash with the Foxes
United probably faces XI against Leicester City
Solskjaer has previously said he manages the veteran Uruguayan’s minutes this season, so with that in mind, United may have been at optimal strength in the Midlands. It got the result that Solskjaer was looking for, after a slight shock.
So what does this mean? All signs now point to a weakened roster against Leicester on Tuesday night, putting his key men in time to return to Liverpool two days later.
It will certainly annoy Klopp, with top four pursuers Leicester now potentially lining up for an easy three points in their quest for the top four in the final weeks of the campaign.
Sportsmail understands that Solskjaer will give opportunities to lesser known stars, including Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata.
Marcus Rashford has been tipped to take the lead, while old master Cavani looks poised to return from the start in the heated clash against Liverpool and their makeshift line of defense.
David de Gea is likely to return to goal on Tuesday after Dean Henderson was reinstated in his position as a domestic stopper against Villa.
The Spaniard is in blistering form after his recent exploits against Roma in the Europa League, which took United’s place in the final. However, De Gea played with the regular backline in the Italian capital, but was able to find himself before kick-off with four new faces on Tuesday.
Match 2 – Liverpool, Old Trafford, Thursday 8:15 pm
Liverpool will of course have little to zero sympathy for United. Last season, Klopp’s men played two games, in two different competitions, on two completely different continents in the space of two days.
The madness unfolded when the Reds faced Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup and kicked off against Mexican champions Monterrey in Qatar less than 24 hours later at the Club World Cup.
Now United is in a similar position, but because of a problem of its own. Or rather, the emergence of an angry fan base who exercised their right to challenge Glazer’s property.
Jurgen Klopp will be aware that United will likely be at full strength if they rotate against Leicester
The difference is that United can look at their remaining games objectively and make judgments.
This seems to have happened, taking into account Solskjaer’s team selection for Villa. The United boss called that match a must-win.
With a mission accomplished in that division, United have Leicester and Liverpool this week, for two closing games against relegation-stricken Fulham and a faltering Wolves side.
With six points ahead of Chelsea in third place and having played one less game, United has the luxury of room to play.
Points can be scrapped, which is why it somehow makes sense that United should risk their chances against Leicester before returning to full strength with Liverpool.
Harry Maguire was injured against Villa and is now a big doubt for both midweek games
A surge in Leicester, you would assume, could be easily restored with a strong performance against their Merseyside rivals and the ensuing momentum that would provide the last two games of the campaign against lesser opponents.
Solskjaer will be aware that Klopp should not record a single win at Old Trafford during his time as Liverpool boss, and retaining that psychological element will be imperative.
One switch the United boss may not be able to use is Harry Maguire’s return to the central defense.
The skipper took off with a suspected ankle injury against Villa and will certainly be rested for the clash with his former employer Leicester – but further damage could lead to a longer layoff. The England international is ready for further scans on Monday, when United will learn the extent of his possible absence.
Solskjaer gave a brief assessment of Maguire after the Villa match and timidly replied, “It could take a few weeks, it could be a few days, who knows.”
As previously mentioned, Cavani is strongly expected to return from the match against Liverpool, although Rashford or teenage star Greenwood could maintain a starting spot on either side depending on form and fitness on the way to Thursday’s encounter.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes appear to be on Leicester before returning to Liverpool
United’s likely XI will face rivals Liverpool
Greenwood made headlines on Sunday after breaking Wayne Rooney’s record as United’s all-time top scorer, scoring 11 goals in all competitions this season.
The youngster’s form and confidence is something Solskjaer will try to hold onto in the run-up to the final weeks of the campaign, and could be the difference he gets the nod over Rashford.
On the other attacking flank, the return of Paul Pogba also seems to be a given.
Some continuity is expected in midfield, with Solskjaer likely to keep the midfielder he chooses alongside Matic against Leicester, while the line of defense is ready for a full overhaul.
The return of in-form Luke Shaw is predicted for the visit of Klopp’s men along with Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the other flank.
Solskjaer is well aware that questions will be asked about his selections in the face of good or bad results this week, although United know they have bigger fish to fry with the Europa League final against Villarreal on the horizon.
The top four is pretty much mathematically assured for United, but the test of the next few days is unlike anything they’ve experienced in recent seasons.
Indeed, if they make progress with both maximum points and a clean bill of health, that would be an explanation.