Blow the dust off your diaries – not that anyone actually owns one anymore – and pencil in the date. Get ready for football in a manner different to how you’ve grown up with, but in a way you’ve at least become familiarised yourself with since the Bundesliga returned.
While there are many itching to see their club(s) return to action, in some cases across the top flight, this isn’t the case. However, for Manchester United, supporters of the club will fall into the former category. Given the way this season has gone that may be tough to imagine, but, the club are now in a position of strength.
Some may argue what said ‘strength’ is, but with the Premier League returning after so long it almost needs to now be viewed as a different season. And with that being the case, the targets each club will set themselves can be reviewed and analysed ahead of one final push.
So, using that logic, United fans have plenty of reasons to be excited. ‘Plenty?’ I hear you say? Yes, that’s right, plenty.
Paul Pogba & Marcus Rashford Returning From Injury
When Marcus Rashford hobbled off against Wolves in the FA Cup – having only come on as a substitute himself – it looked fairly bleak for the rest of the season. After having his injury assessed, those fears were realised.
That’s before this wee halt in action we’ve had. Everyone was panicking that he’d miss the final run-in, but now having had a chance to recuperate, the club’s top scorer this season can resume the finest individual campaign of his career to date.
It’s been a distinctly mixed bag results-wise since he was sidelined, but United fans should be purring at the thought of the Englishman returning to the fold given how superb he’s been.
Then there is Paul Pogba.
A saga that is equal quantities emotionally draining as it is boring beyond belief, should hopefully be forgotten for at least nine matches as he finally returns from injury. It’s tough to even keep track of what has actually sidelined him this season since he’s missed such a considerable chunk, but Pogba is the best player in United’s squad, and all at the club will be glad to have him back.
No player boasts as much natural talent or is capable of controlling and changing a game quite like him. When on-song, he is one of the best midfielders in the world. If you’re one of the sides still due to play the Red Devils, you’d be nervous at the thought of lining up against him.
Sure, his match fitness will be way off, but he’s actually training now. That alone must excite, right?
The Bruno Fernandes & Paul Pogba Midfield Combination
Signed to provide the attacking spark that Pogba’s absence had meant the Red Devils were sorely lacking, Bruno Fernandes has taken to Premier League life like a duck to water. Two goals and three assists in his first five top flight outings signalled that he was capable of performing outside of his native Portugal, but while his United career is in its infancy, the early signs are there.
But while he’s performed admirably thus far on his own, even the prospect of him lining up alongside Pogba for just 15 minutes is something to get the pulses racing even further. Two top drawer midfielders alongside each other is a prospect United fans will be yearning for, having been so starved of such quality since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.
Simply putting them next to each other won’t be an easy task, though. Both love to get involved in the final third, but while Pogba boasts more defensive qualities, it would be a tough ask to sacrifice his attacking prowess in favour of Fernandes staying up the field.
Of course there is nothing to suggest that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t utilise Fred, Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay in the holding role to free up the pair, but expect Pogba’s integration to be staggered considering the length of time he’s been out of action.
Still, when that board pops up with the number six and the number coming off isn’t 18, there will be a collective gasp of elation acround Old Trafford – United fans should be drooling at the thought.
Anthony Martial Getting His Preferred Strike Partner Back
One of the takeaway stories from an underwhelming season at Old Trafford has been the emergence of an invigorated attacking partnership.
Rashford and Anthony Martial have certainly played before, but for the first time this season we were starting to see a heightened understanding and chemistry between the pair in the final third. With Rashford playing in a wider left role and Martial down the middle, the two complemented each other’s qualities while equally making up for one another’s deficiencies.
The lack of a focal point in the side meant Rashford was forced to play down the middle, but with Martial performing that role admirably this season, it’s got the best out of both of them. The Frenchman’s hold up play has improved greatly, while their ability to interchange positionally at points during games has seen teams struggle to defend against their pace and movement.
Considering Rashford’s 19 goals is his best return in a single season, and Martial’s 16 is just one shy of matching his best for the club, Solsjkaer and the rest of the United fanbase will be ecstatic to see the pair lineup together once more.
Not Seeing Andreas Pereira & Jesse Lingard Play
No point beating around the bush, these two have been mostly woeful this season.
In 43 Premier League outings they have just a solitary goal between them, and there is a very strong case to suggest that the only reason these two have played this season is due to the injuries sustained to others. Actually, scratch that, it’s the only reason.
But with Fernandes now in the picture and the rest of the midfield pack stepping up considerably – not to mention Pogba’s return – there is little reason for the duo to play any meaningful part for the rest of the campaign.
That could be seen as overly harsh, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single United supporter who would have these two anywhere near the matchday squad, let alone the starting lineup.
Champions League Football Is Theirs to Lose
In a year where Liverpool’s dominance put an end to any inkling of a title race early on, the interest going into the final weeks of the season will be focused squarely on the top four race.
Well, not entirely top four, as the large Financial Fair Play-sized cloud hanging over Manchester City’s head is likely to grant fifth place a spot in next season’s Champions League. With that in mind, the odds on who will clinch that place are stacked firmly in United’s favour.
Even discounting the difficulty of the matches left to play this season, you can still rule Arsenal and Tottenham out of the race considering the north London rivals have been woeful all season. Above those two are the nearest (and biggest) competitors for fifth – or even fourth.
Sheffield United’s season has been utterly remarkable, but their run-in for the remainder of the campaign is unquestionably the most daunting of the three. They still have to play United, Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester and Everton.
Wolves’ run makes for slightly better viewing, but Arsenal, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Everton still await. Then there is United, who have only two matches left to play where a slip-up is more than just a faint possibility. Those are against the Blades and Leicester, but favourable clashes with five of the sides currently occupying the bottom seven make it all look far rosier.
Manchester United back in the Champions League next term, with (ahem) Jadon Sancho in the starting lineup? Reasons to be excited, indeed.