Manchester United travel to the capital to face West Ham at the London Stadium on Sunday. Eventually getting the job done against Astana in the Europa League in midweek, United’s focus will now be on domestic duties for the rest of the month.
Two wins, two draws and a loss in the first five league games are enough to have United currently in fourth, albeit on goal difference.
United share the same early-season results as Tottenham, Leicester, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham. An already ominous group of teams, realistically fighting over two top spots in the league, chasing Champions League football next season.
While it is obviously only September, United face West Ham this weekend and Arsenal next, presenting the opportunity to build on their cause. Bar Liverpool in October, United have a relatively kind autumn schedule in the league — if some tricky away fixtures — in which to set up a difficult and busy winter.
Furthermore, this weekend Leicester play Tottenham and Chelsea host Liverpool. Three points on Sunday would do very nicely.
David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelöf, Harry Maguire and Daniel James are all rested or ready to return. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s major decision is who he prioritises for the coveted left side of the attack - and who fills in on the right.
Solskjær: “I think today's forwards are different from old traditional No 9s. There's not many left of them. Marcus can play all four positions – right, left, up front on his own and as a No 10. Anthony can, Mason can.” #mulive— utdreport (@utdreport) September 20, 2019
James has shown he’s more suited left than right and arguably benefits the balance of the team most in his preferred position. Accommodating James, however, means either Marcus Rashford plays from the right or he and Anthony Martial duke it out for one spot up front once Martial is fit. Rashford has struggled from the right in the past and United should avoid making the same mistakes plugging Mason Greenwood there.
The situation highlights United’s need for a right-winger which would evenly weight the attack and provide further width. Reverting to Jesse Lingard is an option but he, and especially Juan Mata, would feel like a backward step out wide under Solskjær.
From the younger players, Tahith Chong is the obvious candidate - unfortunately, the academy graduate had a frustrating time of it against Astana and was replaced by Lingard in the second half. Solskjær’s support of Chong post-match was not a coincidence as the manager looks to solve this right-sided puzzle with his current squad.
Martial’s absence again makes the choice for the left forward easier, but the problem on the right persists.
Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood all had excellent games in a much-changed and youthful starting eleven kicking-off United’s Europa League group phase. Tuanzebe and Greenwood will again make the bench at least in London, both looking comfortable should they be required at any stage. With Paul Pogba and Martial still absent, Gomes should also make the matchday squad even having Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard ahead of him.
Tuanzebe, Gomes and Greenwood won’t have to wait long for their chance to start again and will be assured of a place against Rochdale in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Luke Shaw is injured and iffy when he isn’t, and Ashley Young is simply past it now for United. United need at least one lunatic and there’s an opening for Marcos Rojo at full-back if he wants it for a bit. What could go wrong.
Having a striker on the bench who can come on and get United a goal when required would be quite the novelty, all tenuous and tedious comparisons with the manager aside. United might need Greenwood off the bench on Sunday.