Midweek fixtures in the Premier League are tough for every team. Just ask Manchester City and Liverpool how they felt after their stumbles during the midweek. However, unlike the two best teams in the league, Manchester United’s stumbles present a worrisome possibility.
The team trailed 0-2 deep into the second half against Burnley, only four days after spanking Arsenal at the Emirates. Luckily, Solskjaer’s men were resilient and stole a point against Sean Dyche’s full-parked bus. The squad were locked-in during the first half at Leicester and took an early lead, but the team looked sloppy for much of the second half as the scrappy Foxes looked to nab another unlikely draw against a top side during the week.
The match against Leicester marked the fourth match in 16 days, and everyone who remembers their multiplication tables knows that’s some tough mileage - especially now that United are playing a more pacey and aggressive style under Solskjaer. The team that raced around the field in swashbuckling wins that produced a +11 goal differential in OGS’ first four league matches only has a +3 goal differential in the last four league matches.
Now, the ghost of José Mourinho is back to haunt the United roster. The team consistently finished near or at the bottom of the league for distance covered on the pitch. During the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, United were dead last in distance covered with 3,708 kilometers while attacking-minded Liverpool finished first with 4,203 kilometers. Klopp’s squad underwent significant changes to its training regiment to achieve its current form and roster depth. It’s no surprise United will experience fatigue after two-plus seasons of Mourinho’s conservative attacking mindset.
Solskjaer’s midseason style change has been a breath of some of the freshest, crispest air that’s graced our nostrils in the better part of a decade. However, the consequence may include heavy legs as United enters its season-defining gauntlet that includes two legs against Paris Saint-Germain, a cup match against Chelsea, and league matches against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.
United’s attacking talent have the ability to bounce back thanks to their youth, unlike the veteran talents that are heavily relied upon to anchor the defense. Nemanja Matić played courageously against the Leicester counterattack, but we all saw the effect on Matić when he was run into the ground in the early part of the season by Mourinho. Ashley Young has been relentlessly targeted on the right flank, and the 33-year-old is in desperate need of help. Surely, Solskjaer will need to be creative with his starting XIs and substitutions to ensure that his team stays fresh and his defense isn’t downtrodden.
The Reds have a merciful six days between the most recent match at the King Power Stadium and their upcoming match at Fulham. It would be even more merciful if Fulham could act like Fulham and gift United an undemanding three points at the Craven Cottage. However, the team will need to rebound quickly as it prepares to host PSG three days later.
Therefore, starting on Feb. 12, the question for the rest of the campaign will be whether United is defeated by its opponents across three competitions or its conditioning implemented by the previous regime.