Manchester United have been posed a pretty tricky dilemma as they enter the first full week of the January transfer window.
Normally a club would use the winter break as an opportunity to reevaluate their squad at the halfway stage of a season, with the marketplace acting as one final opportunity to influence a campaign with a hefty cash injection, or an inspired signing.
The issue for any club hoping to emulate such a purchase this time around comes with that key word, ‘normal’. This is not a normal season. Not only are we still under half way through the campaign, but the staggered start to the Premier League season means it is hard to truly evaluate just where a side is at the moment in time.
Yes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side might be second in the table, but are they really the second best team? Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal’s recent form highlights just how quickly things can change this season and the same can be said when trying to evaluate a playing squad.
Some players might have played a lot so far, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fall out of favour. Likewise, a player currently on the fringes could yet have a season to remember if they are gifted a chance via injury, suspension or simply squad rotation.
With a Carabao and FA Cup double header this week that is a scenario which seems much more likely at Old Trafford. Although the priority for Solskjaer is silverware this season there would be little surprise if he made changes for both of the knockout encounters he has to face in the coming days.
Such an approach could give fringe players an unexpected chance to shine – not only refuelling their confidence but also presenting somewhat of a transfer dilemma.
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Manchester United stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 games as they recorded a deserved 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
Goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes got the job done as United kept the pressure up on defending champions and league leaders Liverpool.
United’s next game is against City in the Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek.
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It is clear United will look to continue their squad overhaul in the coming month, but involvement in cup competitions, especially the Europa League makes it difficult to sanction the number of exits which some fans would like to see.
It is common belief there are six current first-team players at immediate risk of leaving the club this month. Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, Jesse Lingard and Phil Jones are all redundant in the first-team squad and would even struggle to make a match day squad for a meaningless Europa League second-leg.
However, the likes of Daniel James and Brandon Williams could both yet have crucial roles to play in Europe this season as Solskjaer juggles commitments amid a packed fixture schedule.
While the duo might not be in many fans’ preferred match day squad at the moment, it could soon change when the matter of Europa League football comes about next month.
After such a resurgent run of form United will have to feel confident heading into the potential banana-skin of a two-legged tie against Real Sociedad – but there can be no ignoring the fact that the mood could be drastically different by the time the two sides meet in mid-February.
In the worst possible case United might view the Europa League as their best chance of Champions League qualification next season, but even in an ideal world it is a trophy which Solskjaer will be desperate to win. In either case they would need to utilise their immense squad depth to do it.