In the coming days Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will perhaps be dealt one of his toughest hands as manager Manchester United.
His task? Win two matches against two top-four contenders – one of them being the club’s most bitter rivals – and do so in the space of 48 hours while avoiding injury to any of his key men.
A nightmare situation? It certainly sounds like one.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already warned he has no option but to heavily rotate for the games
As a result of the mass protests against the Glazer ownership at Old Trafford just over a week ago, United’s fixture list has been dealt a hearty dose of congestion at the worst possible moment.
The Red Devils will now face old foes Liverpool on Thursday night in Manchester in the rescheduled showdown, yet just two days prior to this Brendan Rodgers’ FA cup finalists Leicester City will also be on the doorstep, ready for 90 minutes of Premier League football.
Now, after seeing his side pull off a sublime comeback victory over a 10-man Aston Villa on Sunday, Solskjaer is already busying himself for the frantic week ahead.
Big decisions are set to be made, with squad lists altered and certain stars called up from phases in the darkness.
With much to set his mind to, Solskjaer must prove he has the know-how of an elite level manager to navigate through these tough seas and come out the other side.
Match 1 – Leicester City, Old Trafford, Tuesday 6pm
Solskjaer took the opportunity over the weekend to give fellow managers a heads-up and warn that a handful of his Premier League colleagues are not going to be happy with his selection.
The Norwegian kept his cards close to his chest but admitted wholesale changes are in order, going as far as to outline that his actions could completely skew the race for the top four.
Of course, both Leicester and Liverpool find themselves frantically battling to achieve a Champions League finish this season, with the Foxes currently holding the advantage sitting in fourth place.
They are six points ahead of Liverpool, yet have played one match more.
With three games remaining for Leicester, and four for Liverpool, both teams naturally are desperate to take maximum points from Old Trafford.
Solskjaer however has warned: ‘One of them might not be happy because I play a full team maybe in one and the next 11 in the other.
Solskjaer has in-form youngsters such as Mason Greenwood who he may use resourcefully
‘I’ve got to look after the players. That might be someone not happy with my team selection for one game or two games.
‘That might affect whoever gets into fourth position or the Champions League. That’s not my problem.’
So, the tone has been set. Solskjaer has drawn the battle lines and will now act as he sees fit.
The United boss added: ‘I’ve got to think about my players but I know there will be teams fighting for the Champions League places that will not think: “That’s Man United’s best team in that team; that’s not the best players.”
‘I can promise you that its impossible to play 90 minutes at this intensity, at that level in the Premier League four times from Thursday to Thursday.
‘That means I cannot play everyone every minute which means we’ve got to prioritise.’
Calling team selection is always a difficult task. Of course, only Solskjaer knows which card he is going to draw from his sleeve. His squad set-up in Sunday’s win over Aston Villa however has dropped a large clue.
At Villa Park United turned up almost full-strength, with the only notable absence being the in-form Edinson Cavani; who came off the bench to score.
The lesser seen Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic are expected to face Leicester City
Axel Tuanzebe is poised to come in to a much-changed defence for the clash with the Foxes
United’s likely XI to face Leicester City
Solskjaer has previously stated he is managing the minutes of the veteran Uruguayan this season, so with that in mind United were perhaps at optimum strength in the Midlands. It got the result Solskjaer was searching for, after a mild scare.
So, what does this mean? All signs now point to a weakened selection against Leicester on Tuesday evening, resting his key men in time for a return two days later to lock horns with Liverpool.
It is sure to irk Klopp, with top four chasers Leicester now potentially in line for an easy three points in their quest to tie up the top four in the final weeks of the campaign.
Sportsmail understands Solskjaer will hand opportunities to the lesser-seen stars, including the likes of Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata.
Marcus Rashford is tipped to lead the line while the old master Cavani looks set to return from the off in the heated clash against Liverpool and their makeshift defensive line.
David de Gea is likely to return in goal on Tuesday, after Dean Henderson was reinstated to his position as domestic stopper against Villa.
The Spaniard is in sizzling form after his recent heroics against Roma in the Europa League, which booked United’s place in the final. De Gea was however playing with the regular back line in the Italian capital, yet could find himself with four new faces ahead of him come kick-off time on Tuesday.
Match 2 – Liverpool, Old Trafford, Thursday 8.15pm
Liverpool, of course, will have little to zero sympathy for United. Last season Klopp’s men found themselves playing two matches, in two different competitions, in two entirely different continents in the space of two days.
The madness unfolded when the Reds had to face Aston Villa in the quarter-final in the Carabao Cup and then less than 24 hours later had to kick-off against Mexican champions Monterrey in Qatar, during the Club World Cup.
Now, United are in a similar position but due to a problem of their own making. Or, rather, the making of an angry fan base who exercised their right to make a stand against the Glazer ownership.
Jurgen Klopp will be aware that United will likely be full strength if they rotate versus Leicester
The difference is, United can objectively look at their remaining fixtures and make a judgement call.
This appears to have happened, when taking into account Solskjaer’s team selection for Villa. The United boss earmarked that fixture as must-win.
With mission accomplished in that department, United have Leicester and Liverpool this week, before two concluding fixtures against relegation-stricken Fulham and a faltering Wolves side.
Being six-points ahead of third-placed Chelsea, having played one game fewer, United have the luxury of leeway.
Points can be dropped, and therefore it makes some form of sense that United should risk their chances against Leicester before returning to full strength with Liverpool.
Harry Maguire went off injured against Villa and is now a big doubt for both midweek matches
A wobble at Leicester, one would assume, could be easily patched up with a strong performance against their rivals from Merseyside and the subsequent momentum that would provide for the final two fixtures of the campaign, against lesser opponents.
Solskjaer will be mindful that Klopp is yet to record a single victory at Old Trafford during his time as Liverpool boss, and retaining that psychological element will be imperative.
One switch the United boss may not be able to deploy however is the return of Harry Maguire in central defence.
The skipper went off clutching a suspected ankle injury against Villa and is certain to be rested for the clash with his former employers Leicester – but any further damage could result in a longer lay-off. The England international is set for further scans on Monday, when United will learn the extent of his potential absence.
Giving a brief assessment on Maguire after the Villa match, Solskjaer coyly replied: ‘It might be a few weeks, it might be a couple of days, who knows.’
As aforementioned Cavani is heavily expected to return from the off against Liverpool, though either Rashford or teen star Greenwood could retain a starting berth on one of the flanks, depending on form and fitness heading into Thursday’s encounter.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes look set to sit out on Leicester before returning for Liverpool
United’s likely XI to face rivals Liverpool
Greenwood caught the headlines on Sunday after breaking Wayne Rooney’s record as United’s all-time top teenage scorer, and has 11 goals in all competitions this season.
The form and confidence of the youngster is something Solskjaer will look to hold on to heading into the final weeks of the campaign, and could be the difference in him getting the nod over Rashford.
On the other attacking flank, the return of Paul Pogba also appears to be a given.
Some continuity is expected in midfield, with Solskjaer likely to retain the holding midfielder he opts to slot in alongside Matic against Leicester, while the defensive line is poised for a complete overhaul.
The return of the in-form Luke Shaw is predicted for the visit of Klopp’s men, along with Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the opposing flank.
Solskjaer is acutely aware that questions will be asked of his selections in light of either good or bad results this week, though United know they have bigger fish to fry with the Europa League final against Villarreal on the horizon.
Top four is all but mathematically secured for United, but the test in the coming days is unlike anything they have faced in recent seasons.
Should they progress with both maximum points and a clean bill of health, it would be some statement indeed.