Return of the first XI?
Some things were not missed during football’s hiatus. The cyber bullying Luke Shaw was recently subjected to was a depressing reminder of how virulent some are online and more fool them, for United’s form has suffered with Shaw sidelined.
Brandon Williams has had some decent moments in the final third but been exposed a number of times in a defensive capacity and, provided Shaw is fit, he is bound to come back in. A sure sign he is on the mend is Shaw has started driving back into United’s training complex.
His return would likely reassemble the first XI that started five consecutive Premier League matches between Sheffield United and Southampton. Solskjaer hinted at that by resting Aaron Wan-Bissaka in midweek.
Front foot or back foot?
Last week saw the unsuccessful switch to the back three split-striker strategy that Chelsea sussed with a minimum of fuss. Despite that aberration, United have performed well in the formation and reserved it for top four sides.
“We stick to our principles and we want to play the way we want to play,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. “We’ve had two solid formations. It’s still the same style that we want to play and when we think about the next game, it’s 90-10 [focusing on] ourselves.”
It is unlikely United will revert to a back three at Leicester with only two fit senior centre-backs available, but their approach against West Ham was conservative when they knew a draw would take them up to third and they need a point on Sunday.
Champions League qualification?
You have to hope that if United secure Champions League football on Sunday they switch their smartphones off inside the dressing room. Arsenal shamelessly celebrated a top four finish on the final day in 2013 and Michael Carrick wrote of his regret at a dressing room photo the United squad posed for for after beating Liverpool at Anfield in 2015.
Given the amount United have spent in the last two windows and the talent they kept, finishing in the top four was the bare minimum expected and they have made hard work of a menial task.
The strength of United’s bench was always going to be tested when they were not three goals ahead with half-an-hour left to play. Since Southampton, Solskjaer has seemed unconvinced about his forward options and the delay in making the sole attacking change against West Ham was telling.
Juan Mata, Daniel James, Odion Ighalo, Jesse Lingard, and – to a lesser extent – Scott McTominay is not a bad quintet to call upon yet Solskjaer was too loyal to the flagging starters against West Ham and has to have a Plan B in mind.
Can United hold their nerve?
The theory United are ‘not far’ from challenging Liverpool and Manchester City next season has been blown out of the water in the last fortnight. Not only is Solskjaer distrustful of a large section of his squad but United cannot even hold their nerve just to occupy a Champions League qualifying berth.
It was just as well Chelsea played after United on Wednesday night, for had they suffered a shellacking at Anfield earlier in the evening United might have ended up losing against West Ham.
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