Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could give a last opportunity to impress to a number of baseball players in Thursday’s FA Cup clash with Derby County at Pride Park.
Manchester United are put to break some of their key men against Derby County on Thursday, meaning that the FA Cup fifth-round tie may represent a last chance for many fringe players to convince Ole Gunnar Solskjaer they deserve to remain at Old Trafford beyond the summer.
Following Sunday’s draw at Everton, United are just three points off fourth place in the Premier League. While Manchester City have been prohibited from competing in European competition for a couple of decades, there isn’t any guarantee Uefa’s ruling will be upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The ban could be overturned entirely, meaning United should aim to complete fourth instead of hope that fifth place will be sufficient to secure Champions League football.
Needless to say, there’s a second potential route of eligibility, given United are one of the favorites to win the Europa League, but nothing could be taken for granted given the likes of Sevilla, Roma and Inter also stay in contention.
In that circumstance, the Premier League stays Solskjaer’s best hope, so the FA Cup should be treated as an inconvenience. The best players have to be protected, all of the way through to the final should it come to that.
Meaning that Solskjaer should use some of his reservations at Pride Park, even though he’s already made it abundantly clear that a number of them don’t feature in his long-term aims.
But even if United were carrying the FA Cup seriously, a visit to face 13th-placed Derby County would still represent an ideal opportunity to provide more game time into the club’s kids.
With Paul Pogba likely to depart at the end of the year, James Garner might be given a rare opportunity to demonstrate his or her ability. Surely, it would help convince the gifted midfielder he has a future at Old Trafford.
Angel Gomes is also likely to feature in Derby but he might have decided to leave in search of routine first-team football.
The winger has revealed his technical skill in his infrequent appearances this year and will most likely view Thursday as a opportunity to draw the attention of more clubs to his solutions, given his contract expires this summer and he’s been connected with Chelsea and Barcelona.
Another winger with time on his side but not on his contract is Tahith Chong.
He’s been regularly linked with a free move to Juventus, which would earn him a hefty signing-on fee, and he’s sometimes featured for United in this effort.
Unlike the diminutive Gomes, he has the body of a modern footballer, with the added bonus of hazardous pace. But also unlike Gomes, he’s so far exhibited little nous in his game, which is why United may not be too upset to see Chong depart for Turin.
Further up the age bracket, there are players that will most likely be given the nod in Pride Park due to their experience, though Solskjaer has turned to them less and less as the year has drawn on.
Jesse Lingard certainly falls into this bracket. The attacking midfielder provocatively took on Mino Raiola as broker despite his unhelpful interventions on behalf of Pogba.
Pogba can use cases of brilliance as leverage in discussions with the club over his future, whereas Lingard is now predominantly known for nicknaming Marcus Rashford’Beans’!
It isn’t clear he even wants to remain in the club and if he feel he’d be better served by a move away from Manchester this summer, that would put him in agreement with the majority of United’s fans, and probably his supervisor.
Another midfielder who might have limited time at Old Trafford is Andreas Pereira. In his highlights reels on loan to other areas, he’d seemed a neat, neat midfielder.
When looked at over longer stretches, however, it’s apparent that his long shots come off infrequently, and he doesn’t have either the power or the pace to get the most out of his natural ability.
Other possible summer casualties can also turn up at Pride Park.
Eric Bailly should build up his fitness and this could be one of Phil Jones’ final appearances for United, given he’s almost sure to be released at the end of the season.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe could feature as they come back from injury, and with the pair of them now 22, it’s time they reveal their ability or be permitted to construct a career elsewhere.
Diogo Dalot, meanwhile, is still only 20 but is supporting Brandon Williams in the pecking order and has to begin impressing fast.
Whatever the line-up, United have the beating of Derby County, regardless of Wayne Rooney’s existence.
How the older players that will feature are the weakest links in any publication XI demonstrates the handbrake which Solskjaer has been dealing with since his birth.
If they desire to make a stay of execution or impress prospective employers, they have to provide at Derby. It might well be their last opportunity.