Manchester United host Burnley at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday. United, playing their game in hand over Manchester City this weekend, will look to close the gap on the runaway league leaders to a mere eight points. United need City to lose three of their remaining six games in the league, winning all seven on the bounce themselves.
While thoughts may drift to Leeds United, Roma, and Liverpool, United have a job to do at home to Burnley first. More realistically than catching Manchester City, United are looking to maintain or extend their healthy seven-point cushion over third-placed Leicester City as they tick off fixtures in the run-in. United’s impressive resilience and focus to overturn Tottenham Hotspur last weekend – albeit a Tottenham who folded as the game turned against them – has put Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team in the driving seat as we enter the final weeks of the season.
Timely suspensions to Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, and Harry Maguire meant the trio sat out Thursday’s second-leg quarter-final with Granada. Marcus Rashford made the matchday squad but, thankfully, was an unused substitute. Solskjær, however, seems largely unwilling to rest key players, whether that be for players’ momentum or that of his team.
Solskjær would be on a hiding to nothing if he selects a weak side that fluffs a comfortable lead against a poor side in Europe. Or, for example, fails to beat a bottom-half team at home in the league with his match-winners absent. Nevertheless, managing risk will be needed if Solskjær has sights on winning trophies in the future – and taking risks with players’ fitness rather than his understudies is more José Mourinho than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Can understand Solskjaer wants to win the game and build momentum but not sure you need Pogba and Fernandes when you're leading 2-0 from the first leg. Van de Beek has started four games this year.— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) April 15, 2021
The opportunity this week was to rotate key players against Granada, so it was somewhat a surprise to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes starting and playing so many minutes on Thursday night. Either Solskjær lacks confidence in his squad or he lacks confidence in himself, which undermines this season’s trajectory of both. Having said that, United do have a significant easing of fixtures after this week. So, barring any foreseen injuries, perhaps the United manager, enjoying his best spell at the club, knows best.
Enjoyed a vocal game leading the defence alongside Axel Tuanzebe on Thursday, and will be looking for more minutes and another clean sheet with a refreshed Maguire. Victor Lindelöf is having a strong end to the season with United’s captain. Even mastered Unicode on his social.
Another player suspended in the Europa League this week, McTominay will be back in the fold itching to get amongst it in central midfield. With Burnley defending in numbers at Old Trafford in the usual visitor playbook, McTominay should partner with Pogba rather than Fred.
Deployed wide on the left again against Granada, Solskjær has taken a shine to Paul Pogba playing a free role. Initially used as a big game switch up – again at Tottenham – and to solidify the midfield, United lined up with Nemanja Matić and Fred at home to Granada, already two away goals to the good. Should we see Pogba start again from the wing on Sunday, it would represent a significant shift in Solskjær’s thinking rather than one for an occasion. It remains to be seen, and tested, whether there’s merit here for United and Pogba beyond mixing it up.
Will have enjoyed his contribution in London at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last weekend, probably closer to how Edinson Cavani imagined his spell going at United in a glitzy arena. Solskjær talked up the Uruguayan before the Spurs game and he didn’t disappoint. Good timing for United, Cavani opened the scoring in midweek, too, and continued composed efforts to unlock a stubborn Burnley defence would be greatly appreciated.
Scant minutes against Granada – fouled during his only meaningful moment running through on goal on the counter – but looks the part. United could do worse than giving Amad Diallo more time to impress on Sunday, should a gap be left by Mason Greenwood.