Manchester United start their new campaign on Saturday just over a month on from their disappointing Europa League exit to Sevilla and with only one pre-season friendly under their belt.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad has been stretched to the limit with injuries and match fitness a major concern as they prepare to face Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.
It leaves the Norwegian facing a number of selection dilemmas for their Premier League opener as he deals with the consequences of such a quick turnaround between seasons.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a number of selection dilemmas ahead of Manchester United’s Premier League opener against Crystal Palace on Saturday evening
United’s players (left to right) Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes at work in the gym this week after a pre-season that has lasted just over a month
Will Mason Greenwood be involved?
Greenwood hasn’t exactly enjoyed the best start to the new season after being sent home from England duty in disgrace.
The 18-year-old broke Covid-19 protocols when he and Phil Foden invited two girls into the England team hotel in Reykjavik.
Solskjaer revealed on Friday that United had asked England manager Gareth Southgate not to select Greenwood – who made his senior international debut against Iceland – because he needed more rest following the short off-season.
The teenager initially trained alone at Carrington after returning home as a Covid precaution but has since been reintegrated within Solskjaer’s squad.
Mason Greenwood may miss the Palace game with Solskjaer admitted he needs more rest
Greenwood (right) up against Victor Lindelof during one of United’s training sessions this week
Solskjaer’s comments about Greenwood needing more rest casts doubt on whether he’ll be involved from the start – or at all – against Palace.
That could mean a start for Dan James on the right side of United’s attack. With Greenwood in such excellent form last season, James barely featured after the restart but this could be an opportunity for the Wales international to stake his claim for a place.
James started last season with a debut goal in United’s 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea but only scored three times thereafter.
Will Aaron Wan-Bissaka be sharp enough to start at right-back?
There are similar match-fitness worries over right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who only started his pre-season at the beginning of the week.
Wan-Bissaka was forced to self-isolate for 14 days after a holiday in Dubai last month and this pushed back his return to training.
The 22-year-old enjoyed a positive first season at Old Trafford after signing from Crystal Palace, but his shortage of match fitness means Diogo Dalot is likely to play at right-back on Saturday.
Injuries and Wan-Bissaka’s form restricted Dalot to just 11 United appearances last season and there was some speculation he would be sold this summer.
But the Portuguese defender could well have the opportunity to start the season ahead of Wan-Bissaka in that position.
Two weeks of self-isolation after holiday in Dubai means Aaron Wan-Bissaka is short of fitness
It could mean a rare start for Diogo Dalot in the right-back position against Crystal Palace
Should Ole pick David de Gea or Dean Henderson in goal?
Solskjaer wouldn’t be drawn on which of David de Gea or Dean Henderson would start Saturday’s match and said he wished people would say United have two good goalkeepers rather than comparing them.
But it’s a choice Solskjaer now needs to make. Either he sticks with the Spaniard as the established but increasingly error-prone No 1 or shakes things up by picking the Englishman just back from a successful loan spell at Sheffield United.
Henderson hasn’t made things any easier by stating he has no intention of being De Gea’s understudy this season and would rather go out on loan again.
United’s first-choice goalkeeper David de Gea (right) will come under increased scrutiny following Dean Henderson’s (left) return to the club following a loan to Sheffield United
Strongest team: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Pogba, Van de Beek; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Possible team vs Crystal Palace: De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Van de Beek; James, Lingard, Rashford; Martial
In reality, it’s likely both will get their opportunity at some stage in what will be a hectic and intense season across four competitions.
As much as Solskjaer has backed De Gea in the past, the Spaniard will be well aware that any mistakes will now be accompanied by the prospect of losing his place for some time.
He will likely take the gloves against Palace but the pressure on him has certainly increased.
Will Donny van de Beek get his debut in midfield?
United fans sadly won’t be allowed inside Old Trafford this weekend but they’re buzzing to see the impact of Donny van de Beek, their new £40m arrival from Ajax.
The Dutch midfielder impressed during last weekend’s friendly at Aston Villa and Solskjaer will hope he can add something different to United’s midfield.
He’s the club’s only summer signing to date and given other midfield options are short of match sharpness, Van de Beek is likely to make his competitive debut.
Van de Beek should have the adaptability to slot into United’s midfield whether Solskjaer plays a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 and work alongside whoever else plays in there.
While hoping Van de Beek isn’t United’s only summer arrival, fans will be keen to see what he can do this weekend.
New boy Donny van de Beek impressed against Villa and is likely to start on Saturday
Is it too soon for Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes to be involved?
With regards the rest of United’s midfield, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes only returned to Carrington at the beginning of the week.
It raises questions over whether the pair will be fit enough to start against Palace, though Solskjaer did confirm on Friday that the Frenchman is ready for action having recovered from coronavirus.
It may be though that Solskjaer starts him only on the bench and favours Scott McTominay alongside Van de Beek in deep midfield as he did at Villa Park last weekend.
That would give Pogba and Fernandes additional time to get up to speed for forthcoming league games against Brighton and Tottenham.
Paul Pogba in high spirits during training this week but he may not start against Palace
Fernandes works on his strength in the gym this week but the game could come too soon
If club player of the season Fernandes doesn’t feature, his No 10 role will most likely go to Jesse Lingard, who looked certain to leave Old Trafford this summer but could yet see out the final year of his contract.
Lingard ended a lengthy Premier League goal drought by scoring on the final day at Leicester but then barely featured in the Europa League finals out in Germany.
The arrival of Van de Beek also suggested Lingard’s days at United are numbered but a positive performance here to build on his decent end to last season may hint otherwise.
Jesse Lingard celebrates his goal against Leicester City on the final day of last season
Who gets the nod in attack?
We’ve already mentioned James and Lingard, but the rest of United’s forward line should be pretty normal.
Marcus Rashford skipped England duty a fortnight ago due to a shortage of match fitness but should be available for this season-opener.
Likewise Anthony Martial, who was in outstanding form towards the end of last season.
Martial will take the centre-forward position with Rashford in his usual left-side station. United will have Odion Ighalo as a back-up striker on the bench.
Marcus Rashford (left) and Anthony Martial (right) should be fit enough to lead United’s attack