The football world has collectively entered one of the craziest times of the season — the final week of the summer transfer window — an incredible return to Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo has taken the world by storm. However, the United legend will not be ready to start against Wolves this weekend; Raphaël Varane and Jadon Sancho are though.
After a rampant start to the season, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Reds were given a mild reality check against Southampton last weekend. Some of the key issues within the Norwegian’s squad were exposed by the Saints and they will need to be put right on Sunday in order to maintain Premier League momentum heading into the season’s first international break.
United have just under a week to complete any last minute business — with a central midfielder looking like the biggest priority. But whatever happens, it won’t be done before the trip to Molineux. Solskjær will have to tinker within. And with Scott McTominay‘s recent injury proving a bit more serious than anticipated — the boss has some big decisions to make.
Sorting the midfield after an uninspired showing from Fred and Nemanja Matic last week is one. But perhaps none are bigger than deciding whether to give Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane the nod from the start. So, let’s look into it:
Is dropping Lindelöf harsh?
In short, yes. The Swede has not particularly done anything wrong that would warrant demotion to the bench. But it’s really just delaying the inevitable. The truth is, the Frenchman was brought in to partner captain Harry Maguire long-term and the torch has to be passed sooner rather than later.
Now, would anyone be surprised if Solskjær waited until after the international break? Probably not. But with Varane receiving a national team call up — alongside Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial — it’s not like United’s new No. 19 will be around to continue his acclimation period. Therefore, throwing him in against Wolves simply makes sense after he was an unused substitute at the St. Mary’s.Embed from Getty Images
United didn’t look terrible at the back against Southampton, but they didn’t play like world beaters either. The back line was quite easily penetrated and the hosts had their fair share of half chances which they failed to pounce on. And on Sunday, United will face a totally different attacking proposition.
Wolves away has not been the most comfortable of fixtures for the Reds in recent years. The atmosphere is always hostile and no matter the personnel, the Midlands side are always up for it. Granted, Wolves are yet to record a point — or score a goal — under new management, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Having suffered two narrow 1-0 defeats to Leicester and Tottenham, the games were as tight as the score lines reflect and Bruno Lage‘s side has looked quite impressive at times — Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez in particular. And with the former being a speed demon and the returning Mexican a physical threat, it does feel as though both combined are a bit of a Lindelöf kryptonite.
If you were to pick a game that suited Varane’s skillset to a tee, it would be this one. The Frenchman’s speed and aerial prowess could prove to be match winning factors alongside Maguire. And after completing his second week of training, an athlete of his caliber should be ready to step right in and the manager should not hesitate to select him if that is the case. It’s winning time.
Sancho must start
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel dropped an assertive audible regarding Romelu Lukaku‘s availability before the Blues’ put Arsenal to the sword on the weekend. The London side signed the Belgian striker late last week, deeming him unavailable for their home opener against Crystal Palace. But after just one week of training with his new teammates, Tuchel threw the former Red right into the deep end.
“We signed Lukaku to play, not to sit on the bench,” Tuchel told the media prior to kick off. “He trained a lot in Italy. He joined our team last weekend and is now in the starting lineup.”
After arriving at United in the second week of August, Sancho is yet to start for United. He only has around 45 minutes of competitive football under his belt since putting pen to paper at Old Trafford. The key difference here is that the English winger missed pre-season in almost its entirety as a result of England reaching the final of EURO 2020. There were also complications following his arrival which delayed Sancho’s highly anticipated arrival at Carrington.
As a result of all of the above, Solskjær’s hesitance to start the 21-year-old in the first two games of the season has been more than justified. It’s probably reasonable if anything. But you’d think that after two full weeks of training, Sancho should be able to go from the first whistle.Embed from Getty Images
Sancho’s debut cameo against Leeds didn’t tell us much in terms of what form or shape he is in as it was a dead rubber with United up 5-1. It was a glorified warm up session. The ~30 minutes against the Saints were a little more telling.
United’s No. 25 replaced Martial around the hour mark — with United chasing the game — and showed glimpses of what he will bring to the team this season. Some key points of note were that Sancho looked quick, sharp on the ball, and eager to drift and contribute from both sides of the pitch.
Considering that United looked toothless going forward for most of the game — struggling to provide Sancho with the ball in dangerous areas as a result — the Englishman still looked threatening and played a part in a couple of goal scoring opportunities. There were also a few overhit passes aimed his way here and there — issues that will get ironed out with time. But the moral of the story is: he should play.
United just didn’t have enough cutting edge about them to pierce through an organized Southampton defense last Sunday. The Reds — surprisingly — looked the most threatening from set-pieces. But Sancho’s introduction pulled the Saints apart a little bit. All of a sudden, spaces were being vacated and he was slowly getting into his groove. He provides a threat that defenders have to be mindful of.
No matter the circumstances, it is always difficult to find your feet off the bench — in a limited amount of time. In that situation, it’s all about producing a moment. From the start, you naturally get to feel the game out and grow into it — and that’s what Sancho needs now. He’s ready for the next step and undoubtedly ready for at least an hour of football. And with Pogba and Mason Greenwood in red hot form to start the season — the prospect of United’s front three at the Molineux is mouth watering.