As well as the club’s finances, much of the talk at Manchester United right now centres around Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
The creative midfield pair have both been in United training this week, as fans excitedly wait to see if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will pair them together. Questions about whether they can both work in the same team and, moreover, whether the Norwegian will accommodate both Fernandes and Pogba, are certainly valid.
But perhaps it’s elsewhere on the pitch that provides a trickier dilemma for Solskjaer and United.
Many United fans have made a strong case for Eric Bailly’s regular inclusion in the first team since the Ivorian returned triumphantly from another long-term knee injury problem earlier this year. Having not featured whatsoever this season before his return to action against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Bailly was phenomenal in a 2-0 win for United, playing instead of Victor Lindelof.
It prompted discussions over whether Bailly ought to be the regular partner for Harry Maguire and would have eased fears among United fans that they don’t need Kalidou Koulibaly, the Napoli centre-back admired by Solskjaer.
But Solskjaer has huge faith in Lindelof and remained loyal to his fellow Scandinavian when picking his United side for subsequent league games after Chelsea.
His reasoning was sound – that Bailly couldn’t play two games in three days after having so many injury issues. So the former Villarreal centre-back was left out of the United side for their 1-1 draw at Everton. But it didn’t stop Solskjaer being forced to answer questions over his defensive pairing, after United came very close to losing the game, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin causing Lindelof no end of problems.
“Eric’s been out for a long, long time,” Solskjaer said. “We have one of the best clean sheet stats in Europe. Victor and Harry have been a big, big part of that.
“Eric’s played well when he’s played, he’ll got more and more games probably, but it’s important we get him 100 per cent fit before we demand a game every three days from him.”
Solskjaer is right. It’s hard to argue with United’s clean sheet record, which at the time of football’s suspension read nine shut-outs in 11 games. Both Lindelof and Bailly have roles to play.
Many will correctly argue that it’s the competition for places, not just in defence but all over the field – with Luke Shaw versus Brandon Williams and Scott McTominay versus Nemanja Matic among the other battles – that is driving United’s improvement.
And maybe it’s fine for Solskjaer not to be certain of his preferred partner for Maguire.
Bailly, as his manager has said, may struggle to play all the games if the Premier League’s schedule upon restart is packed with two fixtures per week. Lindelof is reliable but rather unheralded.
The real tough decisions will be for those big games, like the Stamford Bridge top four showdown in which Bailly shone. Playing both Pogba and Fernandes will seem like a no-brainer for Solskjaer when assembling his teamsheet for such encounters. Choosing between Bailly and Lindelof hasn’t been straightforward and may continue to provide a headache for the United manager.