It was a little surprise that Manchester United’s weekend draw with Chelsea was without a spell Bruno Fernandez.
Fernandez cut a frustrated character at Stamford Bridge where his high-stakes passing style failed to reap the rewards and United Struggle for creativity in the last trimester.
As an isolated match, it might not have been such a problem Ole Gunnar Solskjaer He couldn’t be completely blameless for his role in the lottery either.
While the Norwegian has been largely on guard with his actual style against Chelsea, it was his decision to play such a needlessly strong team at home against Real Sociedad which could have been a pullback.
“He came to a team that suits him and he fits the team,” Solskjaer said of Fernandes last January. “That goes hand in hand. If the players don’t run, Bruno won’t be able to play his passes. If Bruno doesn’t play his passes, they won’t be able to run.”
“He is part of a series here and I’m sure Bruno will say that he also appreciates his team-mates and that they are helping him through matches.”
Solskjaer may insist his squad isn’t overly dependent on Fernandez’s brilliance – but the stats indicate otherwise.
Last week’s draw with Sociedad saw Fernandez appear the 39th this season already, with the Portuguese only getting vacation nights twice. Once in the League Cup against Brighton and once in the Federation Cup against Watford; In every other match he played.
It is true that Fernandez might be part of a wider chain of the first team, but if one of those links breaks, then everything will collapse. It’s a risk United is already dealing with.
Solshire gave Harry Maguire a rare night on Thursday, which is a small step in the right direction but not enough if he wants to keep performance levels high for the rest of the season.
Given the nature of the current campaign and the schedule for the two matches of the week United are facing, it is clear that the major players will be needed to recover.
Maguire’s rest in the Europa League was only the second time he had such a luxury this season, after he also had the chance to win the cup against Brighton in September. He missed just 315 minutes of a potential 3,720 this season, and the only other match he didn’t play in was due to injury.
Marcus Rashford has played a role in all of his 41 matches this season, even brought up by his appearances in cup matches against Luton and Watford. Long-awaited break.
Elsewhere, right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka has already played 3,128 minutes this season, missing five matches – two of which were imposed due to injury.
These four players are all major components of the series that Solskjaer hints at, but just like last season, an overdependence on them could also contribute to their demise.
It was not surprising that United’s performance in the second round was halted last year when the same players started each week and there would be little sympathy if the same thing happened this time.
Solskjaer is right to bemoan the physical intensity of the season so far, but using just one substitute at Stamford Bridge and starting two main players in a pre-meaningless match won’t support his cause.
United are blessed with one of the best teams in European football and it’s time to put them to use.