Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unlikely to risk Edinson Cavani at Sheffield United as Manchester United enter a run of Premier League games that is as frantic as it is important.
Having crashed out of the Champions League at RB Leipzig last week, the Red Devils responded well against Manchester City but could not find a way past their rivals in Saturday’s tame, goalless derby draw.
United sit ninth ahead of Wednesday’s fixtures yet Solskjaer’s side are also just five points off the summit with a game in hand, heightening the importance of the upcoming run of six fixtures in 16 days.
The hectic schedule kicks off against the rock-bottom Blades on Thursday evening, when Solskjaer is set to be without veteran striker Cavani for a third straight match.
“Of course we have to be mindful of little strains and niggles, and decisions have to be made,” the Norwegian said.
“From the kick-off of Sheffield United to kick-off (against Aston Villa on New Year’s Day) it’s 15 times 24 hours, so it’s going to be very tight.
“Edinson has done well in his rehab. Still have to make a decision if we should risk him because it is a risk, a little bit to him, too early, so I doubt him to be available for me to pick tomorrow.”
Fresh from Thursday’s trip to Bramall Lane comes a clash with old foes Leeds at Old Trafford this Sunday, before heading to Everton in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
A Boxing Day trip to Leicester and home clash with Wolves rounds off a challenging year, before 2021 kicks off with the visit of Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.
Solskjaer will need to lean on his squad during a period that Marcos Rojo will be unavailable for, meaning the Argentina international will not have represented United’s first-team in 2020.
“Marcos has just felt a niggle in his calf again,” the United boss said of the defender, who spent a period on loan at Estudiantes but was registered for this Premier League season.
“He’s worked really hard to come back. He played a game with the reserves, got a knock there. Worked really hard again and then felt something, so he’s hopefully back in January, Marcos.”
Injured defender Phil Jones should also “be ready by January”, when Sergio Romero’s future will become clearer having been “training hard” following his omission from United’s domestic and European squads.
The return of Dean Henderson to United saw the Argentina goalkeeper bumped down the pecking order after years of providing able cover for David De Gea.
But the 23-year-old is now the Spain goalkeeper’s main challenger and was rewarded with a new deal until at least 2025 in the summer, having shone on loan at Thursday’s opponents Sheffield United for the past two seasons.
“It just shows sometimes how beneficial some loan deals are,” Solskjaer said.
“Of course Dean has worked his way up through the ranks, through the system and the two years at Sheffield United have made him really come back as a more mature, quality keeper.
“He’s had some experiences there with a great promotion and his year in the Premier League last season as well was very valuable for us and for him.
“He’s made his England debut now since he’s come back. I feel he’s learning more and more the Man United style.
“Our play is a bit different, we have a couple of different demands of him obviously, but we’re very grateful to Sheffield United and Chris (Wilder) that they’ve given him a chance to develop as they did.”