Manchester United did themselves a world of favours with their 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain.
In what was technically their most difficult Champions League group stage game, United came away with maximum points, alleviating the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the fixtures ahead. RB Leipzig will be no pushovers, but United should be confident of gaining seven more points from five games, two of them against Istanbul Basaksehir in the rest of the group stage.
It has been said by many that the Champions League does not allow managers the chance to rotate, like the Europa League does, because of the step up in quality.
But Solskjaer may find, with vital league games against Arsenal and Everton on the horizon, that he has to use an alternative team in some European clashes. He spoke at length about the need rotate his squad in the press conference to preview the Leipzig game.
As we detail below, he still has plenty of depth, which could allow the United boss the chance to rest stars. Here’s how an alternative United team could look:
GK: Dean Henderson
Solskjaer was understandably unwilling to throw Henderson into the limelight against PSG, sticking with David de Gea in goal as he invariably does in big games. But two games against Istanbul Basaksehir and perhaps even the home meeting with Leipzig may present a chance for him to play Henderson, and allow the 23-year-old to further his case to become United No.1.
Henderson was solid in two League Cup appearances earlier in the season and would not let his boss down.
Back four: Brandon Willams, Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles.
It could well be a back five at times, with Luke Shaw slotting in as a left-sided centre-back, but if the Southampton man is to get a rest then Alex Telles could play in a back four. Brandon Williams impressed as an attacking right-back for United’s Under-23s against Everton recently and looks set to play on that side more often than not this season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will need a break from time to time and Diogo Dalot is in Milan.
Maguire tends to play every game, if fit, but Tuanzebe would be a fine partner for the United captain as he proved with a superb display in Paris. Victor Lindelof is another who may need resting at some stage.
Midfield three: Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba
In a system that would be a copycat of United’s post-lockdown formation, albeit with Donny van de Beek alongside Paul Pogba instead of Bruno Fernandes, this could work against ‘weaker’ European opponents.
Matic was the perfect foil for two more attacking midfielders, so both Van de Beek and Pogba ought to enjoy the freedom of pushing up ahead of the Serb.
Solskjaer looks to have made Fred, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes his first-choice trio, so it’s likely they will all feature in the crucial league encounters coming up. But this isn’t a bad second-choice midfield and it should shine in the Champions League.
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United are unbeaten since the international break after wins over Newcastle and PSG, and a draw against Chelsea. Next up is a home game against RB Leipzig, with Edinson Cavani in contention to make his European debut for the club.
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Front three: Juan Mata, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial
The final game of Martial’s three-match Premier League suspension is this weekend’s Arsenal clash, so you can imagine the Frenchman featuring in the European games either side of that, against Leipzig and Basaksehir.
Those games may also provide the ideal platform to start Cavani, as the former PSG man builds match fitness.
The other attacking role is an interesting one, as Mata started the league games against Newcastle and Chelsea, but you can imagine the Spaniard making way for Mason Greenwood for the upcoming domestic encounters and starting in Europe instead. The off-colour Daniel James may also get some game-time against Basaksehir.