It is now two months since Manchester United last played a match. Little did we know an emphatic win away at LASK in the Europa League would be our final taste of football for quite so long. When it will actually return remains unclear, but June is looking more and more likely after the government unveiled its plans for easing lockdown on Monday.
However, there remains no absolute clarity as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players await the resumption of a routine which has dictated their lifestyle since childhood.
The current break of two months is longer than many players will have experienced in their careers, with the gap between the final day of a season and the start of pre-season shorter than the one we are currently enduring. As a result United worked tirelessly to ensure a new fitness regime was implemented quickly once lockdown was announced with the real struggle ensuring players and staff stay motivated amid a pandemic which seems perpetual.
After such a long break every player will be itching to go again as they look to get back on the pitch at the first opportunity, and for the injured stars it is a situation which could benefit them.
Much of the talk over the past few weeks has been of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, two injured first-team stars, but also two players that could hold they key to Solskjaer’s rebuild in the years to come.
After such lengthy lay-offs fans are eager to see the pair back in action and the longer football is away the better it is for their chances of an immediate return. In the best case scenario it will be three months between matches for United, and a clean slate for Solskjaer when it comes to team selection.
The current break in play has been referred to as a ‘mini pre-season’, but it is in fact an extended one. Before football was put on hold United embarked on an 11-match unbeaten run, which is still technically ongoing, but will be of little relevance when play gets back under way.
With all of their momentum gone United won’t be able to pick a side simply on merit from March, but instead Solskjaer will need to be ruthless and pick a side which is the fittest and has been playing the best in training rather than a match scenario.
This should suit both Rashford and Pogba with the duo now in a perfect position to recapture their place in the starting line up.
Odion Ighalo’s future remains in doubt at United and if a deal can not be agreed then Rashford is all but assured of his starting berth again, while the halted momentum in midfield is an ideal opportunity for Pogba to reinstate his authority as the key outfield player at the club.
The same argument can be used against the pair as well though, with both stars knowing their return is not guaranteed simply because of their reputations. It should make the competition for places even fiercer than before, and for Solskjaer it will be a real test to see who the leaders are in his squad.
With no football until June at the earliest United’s injured players know they’ve got even more time to get match fit. It is then solely up to them to convince the manager they deserve to play.