There is the famous saying from the Bible; "the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" and with Manchester United facing a growing fixture list from now till the end of the season, the team’s manager and ‘builder’, José Mourinho, may soon need to turn to his ‘rejected stones’
You could argue that Manchester United are a victim of their success (competing on 4 fronts) or of a poor start to the season (October and November in particular), whichever way you swing it, the Reds are alive and kicking in four competitions and José Mourinho, true to his words at the start of the season, wants to win every game.
With Michael Carrick and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both picking up injuries in the victory over St. Etienne on Wednesday night, the United manager is already having to think about how to reshuffle the pack for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. This may be a sign of things to come as injuries and suspensions in addition to a hectic schedule puts strains on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United squad.
With games coming thick and fast, Mourinho may need to turn to some of his forgotten men.
At the start of the season, many considered the German’s Manchester United career over and expected him to be gone by January. However, the former Germany captain bided his time and bit his lip and with Morgan Schneiderlin moving to Everton coupled with United’s demanding schedule, Bastian Schweinsteiger is right back in the mix.
Indeed, Mourinho confirmed following United’s second leg Europa League victory over St. Etienne, that he believed Schweinsteiger and Marouane Fellaini were capable of filling the void created by injuries to other players.
Schweinsteiger has featured sparingly for the Reds this season but with Mourinho unwilling to compromise in any of the competitions and United particularly short of cover in central midfield, the illustrious German may be about to feature more prominently than anyone, including Mourinho himself, would have expected.
The English left back has endured a difficult season under Jose Mourinho. Prior to breaking his leg last year, Luke Shaw was having an outstanding campaign, standing out at left back in very much the same way Antonio Valencia has stood out in the right back position this year. While Shaw began the season brightly as Mourinho’s first choice left back, he has now slipped down to fourth choice and could not get a game either in the FA Cup or the Europa league, where he didn’t even travel.
On the surface of it, things may look very bleak for the young English man, however, United’s demanding fixture list also offers him a lifeline.
The injury to Phil Jones and Eric Bailly’s suspension from the next Europa League game (and risk of suspension for subsequent ones), provides evidence of what could transpire at any point in time in the season. Earlier on in the year, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo went from perpetual no-hopers to Manchester United’s first-choice centre-back pairing. That is what a few untimely injuries and suspensions could do for you.
Though Luke Shaw’s position looks precarious at the moment, United’s fight on four fronts could yet play in his favour and grant him an opportunity that at present seems unlikely.
The biggest name on the forgotten list is without a doubt Manchester United and England captain and record goal scorer, Wayne Rooney. Rooney started the season, despite the protestations among a section of United fans, as a first team regular under Mourinho, now though he finds himself at the centre of speculation linking him with a move to China.
When you analyse what Zlatan Ibrahimović is doing for Manchester United at the age of 35 and you consider that Rooney is only 31, it really is a sad state of affairs for the player to be considering a move to China at this stage, however, lucrative the offer on the table may be.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s injury may, however, hand Rooney another opportunity back into the United first team. With the Armenian in such good form, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial doing the business on the pitch and Ibrahimovic scoring freely, it was always going to be difficult for the England striker to find his way back into the United team. But he is another player who could yet benefit from United’s demanding and hectic schedule from now to the end of the season.
United, for example, play an FA Cup clash away to Chelsea on the Monday before playing a knockout Europa league game the following Thursday and this is likely to be the story of United’s campaign from now until the end of the season. Such a gruelling fixture list means the England captain need not fall on his sword just yet. The season may yet prove to still hold a few more special memories for United’s record goalscorer
Another player linked with a move to China but who seems to have come back on Mourinho’s radar the last few weeks as the United manager tries to keep his team fresh and competitive.
The versatility of the former England international, as well as his experience, makes him a useful asset to Mourinho and as the season progresses you can expect to see Ashley Young get more and more game time.
One of the biggest criticisms of Mourinho and United at the start of the season was that the manager did not know what his best team was. This was in many ways down to the many options United had for several positions. Now, that very issue that proved to be a problem at the start of the season, may end up being the team’s salvation.