Two weeks of international football has allowed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more than enough time to dissect his team’s horror show defeat to Tottenham.
That 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford not only emphasised problems at Manchester United we already knew about but a load more as well.
Often when the pressure has mounted on Solskjaer in the past, his United team have responded with a run of good form.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had plenty of time to dwell on Man United thrashing by Tottenham
It was a disastrous afternoon at Old Trafford as United were smashed 6-1 last time out
Now he needs that more than ever. After Saturday night’s visit to Newcastle United – the scene of arguably their most lacklustre performance last season – a daunting run of games awaits.
Solskjaer’s side must play Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal, Istanbul Basaksehir and Everton all before the next international break.
The question for the manager is whether now is the time to be bold and shake things up in his team or stick with the tried and trusted in the hope various players recover their form.
Some of Solskjaer’s selection issues for the Newcastle game will be dictated by injuries and suspensions but there is certainly scope for change.
Time to take Maguire out of the firing line?
In an ideal world, Solskjaer would be able to grant his captain Harry Maguire a couple of weeks’ holiday to get his head together after a pretty disastrous start to the season.
The ordeal of his conviction in Greece, a couple of poor performances in United colours and then a red card on England duty against Denmark – it’s not a good moment for Maguire.
But with that taxing fixture list looming, there’s absolutely no way Maguire would want to take some time out and little chance Solskjaer would let him through choice.
Harry Maguire has been struggling for form amid a calamitous start to the season
Maguire was sent off for England against Denmark in the latest setback to his campaign
As Maguire will be suspended for England’s Nations League matches against Iceland and Belgium next month, he can take a break then.
In the meantime, Solskjaer will just have to hope his main centre half can somehow play himself back into decent form against top class opponents.
However, as Solskjaer hinted during his press conference on Friday morning, there may be enforced changes to his central defensive pairing at St James’ Park.
Maguire was seen to be holding the back of his leg a few minutes before collecting his second yellow card and Solskjaer confirmed a ‘little knock’ which will necessitate a late fitness test.
Solskjaer could go with Victor Lindelof (left) and Eric Bailly (right) as his central defenders
Man United fixtures
Premier League unless stated
Saturday Newcastle United (A)
Tuesday Paris Saint-Germain (A)
Champions League group stage
October 24 Chelsea (H)
October 28 RB Leipzig (H)
Champions League group stage
November 1 Arsenal (H)
November 4 Istanbul Basaksehir (A)
Champions League group stage
United are already without Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe, leaving their most likely centre-back pairing as Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof.
Lindelof started the first two Premier League games of the season alongside Maguire before Bailly came in to replace him for the Spurs debacle.
Bailly and Lindelof aren’t complete strangers, however, as they partnered each other in the EFL Cup tie at Brighton late last month and managed to keep a clean sheet in a 3-0 win.
But Newcastle will be a far tougher proposition to an under-strength Brighton and United fans already watching from behind their hands with Maguire in the team probably won’t feel much more confident in his absence.
Dispense with Pogba?
It’s been an equally dreadful start to the season for Paul Pogba. After testing positive for coronavirus, his return to action has been marked by poor displays against Crystal Palace and Tottenham.
Then Pogba went away on international duty with France and once again spoke about his ‘dream’ to play for Real Madrid.
Now reports have suggested that Pogba is unhappy playing so deep in United’s midfield and he wants the more advanced role filled by Bruno Fernandes.
Trouble is, Fernandes has been outstanding since arriving at Old Trafford in January and, well, Pogba hasn’t been.
Paul Pogba could be axed for the Newcastle game after struggling to find early season form
Solskjaer could hand Donny van de Beek his first Premier League start to find more balance
So if Solskjaer were feeling bold, Pogba would be dropped for the Newcastle game with Fernandes as No 10, Nemanja Matic as the holding player and Donny van de Beek operating between them.
Pogba’s natural inclination is to push forward but when he’s supposed to be showing more discipline in a withdrawn role that can leave United short-handed when teams attack.
Van de Beek is more likely to offer that discipline but so far he has been restricted to three substitute appearances totalling just 46 minutes in the Premier League as Solskjaer eases him into the English game.
So surely it’s time for Van de Beek to make his full league debut and it’s far more likely to be Pogba making way than Fernandes.
Time for Telles?
With the transfer deadline coming just after United’s last game and the club leaving pretty much all their business until the eleventh hour, the newcomers haven’t been in action yet.
Striker Edinson Cavani is still in quarantine and so can’t feature against Newcastle and Facundo Pellistri is unlikely to be involved.
But Alex Telles may feature despite flying half-way round the world to play for Brazil against Peru in a midweek World Cup qualifier.
Alex Telles is unveiled as a United player following his move from Porto late in the window
Telles played for Brazil in their World Cup qualifier against Peru before flying back to England
His arrival from Porto offers competition for Luke Shaw in the left back spot and given Shaw’s struggles so far this season, quite a few United fans would be keen to see Telles thrown straight in.
It would certainly be a bold move by Solskjaer as he’s had no time to work with Telles on the training ground yet.
But given United’s urgent need for both reinforcement at the back and a little bit more creativity going forward, perhaps Telles is the man to make an instant impact.
Luke Shaw (right) could lose his position as United’s first choice left-back after poor form
Greenwood to lead the line?
With Cavani taking no chances amid the Covid-19 crisis and Anthony Martial suspended after his red card against Spurs, Solskjaer needs someone to lead the line on Saturday night.
Odion Ighalo has played just nine minutes of Premier League football so far this season and didn’t make much impression in the two Carabao Cup games.
So that could open the door for Mason Greenwood to move from his usual right-side berth to lead the line.
Mason Greenwood (right) could be given the opportunity to play as United’s centre forward
Anthony Martial is suspended for the trip to Newcastle following his red card against Spurs
Greenwood is a natural centre forward and a clinical finisher so Solskjaer would back the teenager to give United a cutting edge.
He’s not had the greatest impact in his three Premier League games so far, though, but then nobody has exactly covered themselves in glory.
If Greenwood does move there, it will probably allow Dan James to get an outing on the right side.
Manchester United team vs Tottenham
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Possible team line-up vs Newcastle United
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Lindelof, Telles; Matic, Van de Beek; James, Fernandes, Rashford; Greenwood