Ole Gunnar Solskjer risked the wrath of Manchester United fans when he backtracked on his transfer comments at the start of the month, but it looks like he might have been right all along.
Speaking back in April the United manager stressed a “need to strengthen the squad depth because it’s going to be a long season” before insisting three weeks ago the options available to him were sufficent already.
“When I talk about the squad depth, we’ve got a big squad,” he admitted as he faced questions about United’s tame transfer approach which had seen them only sign Donny van de Beek. Three days later he welcomed another four faces to Old Trafford as the ‘big squad’ grew even larger.
Solskjaer’s backtrack might have been in an effort to ease pressure on himself ahead of a daunting deadline day but the fact of the matter is United’s squad remains far bigger than most in the Premier League.
The absence of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero from the Champions League squad this season is not only a damning reflection of their stock at the club but it is also a reflection of the failure to move on players who are surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.
Axel Tuanzebe’s emphatic return on Tuesday night almost immediately eased fears of missing out on a new centre-back, with his Paris performance setting the benchmark for any defender at the club. Just as Luke Shaw outmuscled the threat of Brandon Williams last year it is now down to every other central defender at United to prove they are capable of what Tuanzebe achieved, with the 22-year-old firmly in the first-team frame.
Likewise in midfield there is now a genuine argument for any of the six senior central midfielders to start a match with Fred and Scott McTominay both showcasing exactly why they are as effective as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in the deeper roles. Solskjaer’s selection in midfield will always be defined by the opposition, but with so many viable options he now has a welcome selection headache on his mind.
David de Gea has also taken his level of performance back to a level many feared was gone, with Dean Henderson little more than a passenger so far in a season which was supposed to define his career. Unlike in previous seasons, United now have real quality in their reserve ranks and it is transforming the way in which the first-team is playing.
After the lockdown United gained added stability by having such a recognisable ‘Best XI’ but they soon suffered after an overreliance on Bruno Fernandes, injury to Shaw and opposition learning how to subdue an often predictable approach. Four months later and Solskjaer has managed to transform his team again, this time with an emphasis on squad rotation rather than viewing it as a last resort.
United’s strength is highlighted by the fact they changed three players from the win at Newcastle, as well as their formation, yet they still managed to win while retaining the option of even more changes if necessary.
With the visit of Chelsea this weekend there is an argument to suggest United could make changes in goal, defence, midfield and upfront while still winning the game. It looks like Solskjaer was right all along.