David de Gea may not be the first name on the Manchester United team-sheet in a figurative sense, but the Spaniard’s selection for tonight’s game is a near-guarantee.
Monday Night Football: Ways to watchFind out more about Sky Sports
Speculation about De Gea’s future has been quelled by last month’s contract renewal and although his form has undoubtedly dipped in recent times – witness his error against Leicester and the regular mistakes towards the latter end of 2018/19 – there is little prospect of Sergio Romero adding to his record of seven league appearances in five years unless injury befalls United’s established number one.
With Harry Maguire, the world’s most expensive defender, and Victor Lindelof now fixed as United’s first-choice central defensive partnership, United’s backline has been a settled affair since the start of the season.
Get a Sky Sports Day Pass
The only change so far has been the replacement of Luke Shaw by Ashley Young at left-back following the hamstring injury Shaw sustained during the defeat to Palace last month. Shaw has resumed training in recent days but Solskjaer was unsure on Friday whether he’d be sufficiently fit for tonight’s game.
At right-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been one of the few consistently bright lights for United in their opening six league games, of which he has played every minute.
Will Paul Pogba be fit? Solskjaer’s selection thinking in midfield will revolve around that question. The Frenchman, absent against West Ham last weekend, returned in midweek but despite completing the 90 minutes against Rochdale has been rated doubtful for this evening’s fixture with a swollen ankle injury.
If Pogba doesn’t make it, Nemanja Matic will retain his place alongside Scott McTominay in the middle despite a very underwhelming display at West Ham.
Juan Mata was another who struggled to make an impact against the Hammers, as was Andreas Pereira. Could Solskjaer react by redeploying Pogba in a more offensive role that would enable Matic to partner McTominay whether or not the Frenchman is fit? Possibly – and it’s not as if either Fred or Jesse Lingard, whose contribution measured in goals and assists has been negligible for over six months, have made pressing cases for inclusion of late. But Arsenal also happen to be Lingard’s favourite opponents – he has scored has scored four goals in as many games against the Gunners – and that impressive record may well come into Solskjaer’s thinking.
Nonetheless, it’s a damning indictment of United’s squad that, strikers aside, the fledgling talent of Daniel James is so unarguably their most attacking threat. Two months into his Old Trafford residence and James is already a certain starter.
By any measure, Solskjaer has been unfortunate. While it’s easy to criticise United’s failure to buy attacking reinforcement in the summer when they let Alexis Sanchez and Lukaku depart, who would have foreseen both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial being injured within the opening six weeks of the season? There is scarcely a Premier League club which wouldn’t struggle if their first-choice strikers were both ruled out.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Manchester United want a new strikerManchester United fixtures
But the reality for Solskjaer is that the cupboard is almost bare. Barring an unexpectedly swift recovery by either Rashford or Martial, 17-year-old Mason Greenwood will be up front for United this evening and bearing a heavy responsibility. How Solskjaer must dearly wish he could select his younger self.