Man Utd increased their squad’s depth in FA Cup win over Liverpool
Manchester United showed with their FA Cup win over Liverpool that they have the essential depth to compete seriously on multiple fronts in this most crowded season where games are coming faster than ever.
United have played 16 times in four different competitions since the start of December and will increase that number to an even more impressive 18 by the end of January, with two more games to go in the last week of the month.
Things did not go as planned in the Champions League in early December, as they were eliminated from the Carabao Cup in the semi-finals in early January. But their form in the Premier League has been almost flawless over the past six weeks, as they progress well in the FA Cup and at Liverpool they have taken out one of the biggest threats.
February won’t be a break either, with eight more games in three competitions scheduled over a 27-day period, averaging every three or four days for a third consecutive month.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is determined to win a trophy this season so the club won’t be starved of silverware for a fourth year in a row.
But being able to balance and manage players carefully so that they don’t suffer from the same kind of burnout United did in the later stages of 2019/20 will be so important. So it was refreshing to see a slightly rotated line-up still doing the trick against Liverpool.
Conversely, Liverpool themselves struggled with depth. Losing their two first-choice center-backs simultaneously to long-term injuries was a stroke of bad luck, but selling a center-back in the summer without a replacement and leaving a known player at risk of injury as the only senior replacement looks mediocre. planning as much as anything else. The Reds have also been bitten by failing to recruit replacement attacking players of sufficient quality to relieve some of the burden on their starters.
Victor Lindelof was back at United on Sunday, having recently shared starts with Eric Bailly. Solskjaer also has Axel Tuanzebe at his disposal at the back, a player much appreciated by the manager and with this superb performance in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain on its record.
In midfield, Solskjaer resisted the temptation to reunite Scott McTominay and Fred to suffocate Liverpool. Instead, he left Fred out, moved Paul Pogba deeper, and brought in Donny van de Beek, who United fans still haven’t seen a better one since his arrival.
Pogba has already been criticized when playing deeper and it had seemed his more attacking positioning in recent weeks was Solskjaer’s attempt to hide his weakness and limit the level of defensive responsibility that lay on him. But the Frenchman led the game and outscored Thiago – even though Liverpool fans clinging to denial have claimed otherwise.
It also meant Bruno Fernandes could be left out at the start. He was ultimately made to make a decisive impact, but those first 66 minutes of rest on the bench will have been invaluable in keeping him as fresh as possible – having done more than any other player in English football in the last one. 12 months.
Further on, Anthony Martial rested from the start and only played the last minutes. Edinson Cavani’s short-term signing was pilloried in October – and she might have at least been able to seal a few months earlier – but appears to have been a masterstroke in the short term. Mason Greenwood started and scored, but only played 66 minutes, while Marcus Rashford is in great shape.
United also had Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Daniel James and Alex Telles on the bench to add depth and other options across the pitch. The latter’s presence appears to have also made the most of Luke Shaw, who is arguably playing his best football since joining United since recovering from his latest injury setback in recent weeks.
Then there’s Amad Diallo, a player Solskjaer hinted might be closer to making his debut than anyone reasonably expected. Presumably, its impact on training has already been substantial.
United still have a long way to go if they are to end the drought of an eight-year-old Premier League title, but that is certainly not out of the question based on current form. The FA Cup is close at hand as it now only requires four wins to lift the trophy, while the Europa League also resumes next month, adding international travel into the equation.
Solskjaer will need his whole squad if United are to realize their potential in the second half of the season. But the fact that he has depth to invoke is already so crucial.
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