The final game of this Covid ravaged EPL season is finally upon us.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær needs to go back to the well one last time in this topsy turvy season of feast and famine, to draw on his team's new found ability to not lose a premiership game. If his rebooted red devils avoid a 14th defeat away to Brendan Rodgers Leicester City, United would have punched their ticket back into the UEFA Champion League competition without needing to win the best of the rest, and UEFA's less illustrious version - the Europa League.
The stakes could not be higher, qualification directly into the UCL carries with it multiple meandering advantages, each one bolstering the other in a desperate quid pro quo melee of sorts. Getting back into the apex european club competition gives United's negotiators a steely lever to pull, and a juicy carrot to dangle in front of new sought out talent they desperately need in order to reinforce the devils surge to the next level.
Champions league football without a doubt makes United a desirable destination for young hungry professionals looking to make their mark, and raise their profile.
Having a UCL berth can translate to real time savings in fees negotiated for high profile targets such as the nimble footed Jadon Sancho, a technically gifted young English player who can cut a team in a variety of ways. United are in urgent need of a creative insurgency on the flanks, the painfully apparent creative deficit currently the burden of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, both have answered the call admirably, moreso the former - Bruno has been an inspired addition to the United's midfield, but both have looked knackered in these last games of the run in. More creative options are needed to add quality to Ole's depth chart.
Ed Woodward, the often times beleaguered chief executive at Old Trafford, would be forced to infuse Ole's cultural reboot project with more cash for much needed player acquisitions following a UCL berth. Getting back into Europe in his first full season in charge at United will make an efusive, if not compelling case for Woodward to keep the faith with Solskjær, and enthusiastically back the next campaign.
Woodward would have more conviction to work colloboratively with Ole to transition more players out of the team with higher targets now on the horizion. The hope is that Solskjær will be quietly ruthless here, quite a few players at the club are on surreal wages that still anchor down the books, Alexis Sanchez chief amongst them, and the embattled David De Gea is dragging himself into the conversation with the continution of alarming drops of concentration at critical periods.
Getting a positive result at Leicester and bagging the UCL would also serve as a relief valve, significantly reducing the pressure on having to get the ultimate result in the Europa League. It would open other alternative approaches to the competition, like trying out more squad or academy players to find out what they are about. Ole can throw them in the mixer so he can have a real yardstick to measure, and decide their futures at the club. Not that a Europa trophy is one to sniff at, or to not take seriously - far from it. It would give him more lee way ultimately as he fashions the strategies to approach that competition.
We can’t go into a game thinking about what the outcome could be. We just have to go and perform and perform to a high enough level for us to get a result. We want to go there and dominate the game - Ole Gunnar Solskjær
The game on Sunday will seem like the final hurdle in the sometimes agonizing marathon race of reimagining and restablishing a team that reflects the culture of Manchester United. The team has gone through a horrid first spell, the worst start to a league campaign in three decades, and survived untimely injuries to key players - Rashford, Martial, and Pogba. Ole had expelled big personalities in the team in the favor of players who had been tested, but had never been fully trusted. Allowing Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Smalling, and Ashley Young to leave, while placing his trust on a front three that included fresh faced Mason Greenwood to provide the goals needed to medivac United out of the rot.
Solskjær cannot dally with the tactics against an injury ridden Leicester City. Brendan Rodgers team have nosedived at the worst time, but they are still in the chance of making a spot theirs. His laughable attempt at mind games gives away the importance of the fixture. United must not fall into the trap of indecision. To depend on a draw would be a folly Ole could quickly regret. The reds must play quickly and look to slice Leicester at every opportunity, taking advantage of a incisively rapid counterattack should be only incidental as opportunities arise in the natural flow of the game, but it must not be the foundation of the play. Solskjær should seek to architect the play to resemble the irresistible football that saw his team break a long standing EPL record for goals scored in consecutive matches.
He must poise United to lean into the game and be it's chief aggressor. The battle for the third and fourth slots is especially grueling this season with outfits such as Arsenal and Spurs who just recently played their way to a UCL final, on the outside looking in. Ole must make good of his choice to devalue the importance of the FA Cup. The margins are excruciating thin, his counterpart in London, Frank Lampard might also be swallowed by the expectations monster if he falls at this hurdle, his handling of the FA Cup final might be cast in new undesirable light if his team falls short against Wolves.
It would be quite the maiden achievement for Ole to capture third place on Sunday, especially in light of his many detractors, naysayers, and doubters. Considering the whole campaign in its entirety, and where the team had to fight back from. It would be an amazing place to land, and a gateway to announce the emergence of another promising United manager.