Manchester United host Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at Old Trafford this weekend as club football resumes following a fortnight of internationals. United will want to get back to winning ways on Sunday in the league having gone out of the FA Cup to Leicester City in their last fixture before the break. While United need points to keep a chasing top four pack at bay, Brighton are looking to maintain daylight between themselves and relegation.
United’s backroom staff should be somewhat refreshed from the pause in fixtures. Many of United’s players, however, will have returned in various states of fatigue and fitness with no letup in their already packed schedule. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s main concern is the availability of his forwards.
Solskjær and United have only one cup left to play for this season and have their course in the Europa League mapped out already. Granada, then Ajax or Roma, stand in United’s way of reaching the final in Gdańsk and failure to do so would be a missed opportunity. Before United’s European commitments away at Granada on Thursday, the Reds may have a chance to increase their lead over Leicester with the Foxes playing Manchester City on Saturday.
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Perhaps the most anticipated decision this weekend will be over who starts in goal for United. The pressure, here, feels very much on the manager and on David de Gea. Dean Henderson covering De Gea’s paternity leave for six matches has largely gone well for the England international, leaving Solskjær with a clear choice to make.
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Solskjær cannot duck the dilemma, either. Should Henderson only be offered outings in midweek – even all the way to a Europa League final – with no reassurances about next season, he can feel aggrieved and concerned for his United future, while De Gea can feel fortunate. Were Henderson to start on Sunday it would signal a changing of the guards in goal and the beginning of a new era for United.
United’s mainstay at right-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has played an eye-watering number of minutes this season. Fortunately for United, Wan-Bissaka stayed at Carrington with no international obligations and will have spent valuable time recuperating for the final two months of the campaign.
Though with little competition behind him, and while not being spectacular, Wan-Bissaka’s consistency and reliability has been an important contribution to United’s hectic season.
The upside of internationals are the minutes it will give to players returning to fitness from more serious injuries, none more so than Paul Pogba. Pogba can play a pivotal role over the next few weeks which would also set the Frenchmen up well for the Euros in the summer. United have been lost without Pogba’s creativity and ability to run a game from central midfield and, hopefully, he will do so partnered with Scott McTominay in the middle.
United were given another boost from Bruno Fernandes arriving back early, missing Portugal’s World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg through suspension. The yellow card Fernandes picked up in their match with Serbia meant United could spend more time getting the Portuguese playmaker, so crucial to United’s fortunes, ready for the Seagulls on Sunday.
Fernandes’s form had dipped markedly before the break and United will want to see signs of his unplayable best returning for the run-in.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are both in training, and could feature for United, despite both forwards withdrawing from England and England Under-21 duties respectively due to injury. Anthony Martial, however, suffered a further setback with France and may not make United’s matchday squad.
While Solskjær is not shy from fibbing about players’ fitness, Martial is not expected to be available. Edinson Cavani should, in this instance, start up front – not least having spent the last fortnight at Carrington with Nemanja Matić – but Cavani’s stock is falling rapidly. Cavani’s loss would be Greenwood’s and Daniel James’s gain.