Manchester United are in a good place right now, arguably a better place than they have been in at any point since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Saturday evening marked a 14th game without defeat as the team booked a place in the FA Cup semi-finals for only the third time since 2011. But this remains a work very much in progress and the positive steps made in recent months are still relatively early in the process.
United deserve credit for picking themselves up since January after reaching rock bottom when Burnley outplayed them at Old Trafford, not least because of some of the results that have come since then as part of this unbeaten run – wins against Manchester City (twice) and Chelsea included.
But what was abundantly clear against Norwich is the squad as a whole is still short.
The strongest XI that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can pick, fitness permitting, is genuinely excellent. The problem that persists, however, is that United still have no more than 14 or 15 players you would say are good enough for a place in the long-term picture.
Rotation is so vital in order to compete on multiple fronts, as United are doing this season, but Solskjaer is not yet able to make wholesale changes – there were eight changes made for the Norwich tie – and expect the results to come as easily.
A rotated side at Norwich allowed a number of key starters to rest, but in the end it proved a struggle to beat the Canaries, who are staring relegation in the face in the league, and United looked lacklustre and short of ideas in the first half in particular.
Coming up this mid-week, Brighton are exactly the kind of team United could easily beat with a strong side, or equally struggle against if selection concessions have to be made.
The nature of this season, which sees United playing twice a week until the end of July, followed by the resumption of the Europa League campaign as a quickfire mini-tournament in August, puts an even greater pressure on rotation in order to keep players fresh enough.
You could genuinely back United’s strongest XI to beat anyone on any given day, even Liverpool – it’s worth noting that neither Paul Pogba nor Bruno Fernandes faced the Merseysiders this season, while Marcus Rashford was forced to miss the clash at Old Trafford.
But whether you’d back a rotated side to beat a more favourable opponent is quite debatable.
There is every chance that United will enjoy a strong performance and good result against Brighton on Tuesday night when starters return in numbers. But will Bournemouth next weekend be more akin to the Norwich game instead if several of those starters are once more rested?
Solskjaer could opt not to rotate, but that comes with its own significant injury risks.
United should be able to win all seven remaining Premier League games because they have the quality to do so. But circumstances dictate it won’t be as straightforward as that.
The squad is on the right path. The finish line just isn’t in sight quite yet.
Source : 90min