The feel good factor is definitely back and with games coming up against Bournemouth and Newcastle, the honeymoon period for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks set to continue. In large part the team has been picking itself, whether that be down to injury, illness or compassionate leave options have been relatively limited but with Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku close to returning what does that mean for momentum going into the New Year?
Solskjaer publicly has been very positive about the prospect of having Sanchez and Lukaku back, but underneath he must realise that this means that he has to face the dilemma about how to integrate two highly divisive players back into the forward line without affecting the obvious positive progress and new found harmony within the squad. You have got to feel that Martial now picks himself, so how does Solskjaer approach this conundrum?
The under-performing Sanchez has been a source of bewilderment amongst the faithful and media alike. It is tempting to think that given new found freedom that he would flourish up front with Martial and Rashford just behind him. This would seem to satisfy the Solskjaer mantra about attacking football, whilst making sure that young players are allowed to develop, but what would that mean for a brooding Lukaku potentially side-lined as a makeweight?
Those criticising Lukaku have focussed on his lack of movement going forward and his apparent ‘poor’ physical condition. Certainly in the last two games the forward movement has been much improved in his absence and the goals have flowed, so would integrating Lukaku suddenly put the brakes on this momentum? Lukaku is still a handful for defenders, you could see with the full backs now pushing a higher line and with Dalot potentially swinging in more crosses, then maybe there is cause for optimism.
If it is Sanchez who loses out then one thing seems obvious, this will introduce negative energy into a team that whilst out of ER are still in intensive care as far the ‘feel good factor’ is concerned. Sanchez, precocious talent that he is, has a solid reputation for throwing his toys out of the pram and the infamous WhatsApp group would likely become very interesting reading with possible new side bets. Sanchez would not be picking up his winnings in that scenario.
The FA Cup may come to Solkjaer’s aid, an opportunity to try out forward combinations whilst also providing substitute opportunities for the 18 year olds ‘knocking on the door’. However, if all of our forwards stay fit then the perennial modern challenge of having to balance performances and egos may well be Solkjaer’s biggest test going into the New Year. If this is all that we have to worry about in January, then maybe that is not such a bad thing. What a difference a fortnight makes!