Manchester United are set to rest some of their key men towards Derby County on Thursday, meaning the FA Cup fifth-round tie might represent a closing chance for numerous fringe players to persuade Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that they deserve to remain at Old Trafford beyond the summer.
After Sunday’s draw at Everton , United are three points off fourth place in the Premier League.
While Manchester City have been banned from competing in European opposition for two years, there is no warranty Uefa’s ruling will be upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The ban could even be overturned completely, which means United should aim to finish fourth rather than hope that fifth place will be sufficient to tightly closed Champions League football.
Of course, there is a second possible route of qualification, given United are among the favourites to win the Europa League , but nothing can be taken for granted given the likes of Sevilla , Roma and Inter also continue to be in contention.
In that context, the Premier League remains Solskjaer’s exceptional hope, so the FA Cup ought to be treated as an inconvenience. The best players have to be protected, all the way through to the final should it come to that.
That capacity that Solskjaer need to use some of his reserves at Pride Park, even if he has already made it abundantly clear that some of them do not function in his long-term plans.
But even if United have been taking the FA Cup seriously, a day out to face 13th-placed Derby County would nonetheless represent an ideal probability to give more game time to the club’s youngsters.
With Paul Pogba probably to go away at the end of the season, James Garner might be given a rare chance to exhibit his ability. Certainly, it would assist persuade the proficient midfielder that he has a future at Old Trafford.
Angel Gomes is also possibly to feature at Derby however he may also have already decided to go away in search of regular first-team football.
The winger has shown his technical capability in his rare appearances this season and will likely view Thursday as a chance to appeal to the interest of even more clubs to his services, given his contract expires this summer and he has already been linked with Chelsea and Barcelona.
Another winger with time on his side however not on his contract is Tahith Chong.
He has been frequently linked with a free transfer to Juventus, which would earn him a hefty signing-on fee, and he has now and again featured for United in this campaign.
Unlike the diminutive Gomes, he already has the physique of a modern-day footballer, with the added bonus of risky pace.
However, also in contrast to Gomes, he has thus far exhibited little nous in his game, which is why United might no longer be too upset to see Chong depart for Turin.
Further up the age bracket, there are players who will in all likelihood be given the nod at Pride Park because of their experience, although Solskjaer has turned to them much less and less as the season has drawn on.
Jesse Lingard certainly falls into this bracket. The attacking midfielder provocatively took on Mino Raiola as agent in spite of his unhelpful interventions on behalf of Pogba.
Pogba can at least use situations of brilliance as leverage in talks with the club over his future, whereas Lingard is now predominantly known for nicknaming Marcus Rashford ‘Beans’!
It is not clear he even desires to stay at the club and should he sense he would be great served by a move away from Manchester this summer, that would at least put him in settlement with most of United’s fans, and probably his manager.
Another midfielder who may also have restricted time left at Old Trafford is Andreas Pereira.
In his highlights reels on loan to different sides, he had looked a tidy, neat midfielder.
When looked at over longer stretches, though, it is apparent that his long shots come off rarely, and he does not possess both the strength or pace to make the most of his natural talent.
Other possible summer casualties may also also turn up at Pride Park.
Eric Bailly desires to build his fitness up and this could be one of Phil Jones’ final appearances for United, given he is almost sure to be released at the end of the season.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe could feature as they return from injury, and with the pair of them now 22, it is time they exhibit their ability, or be allowed to build a profession elsewhere.
Diogo Dalot, meanwhile, is nevertheless only 20 however is at the back of Brandon Williams in the pecking order and needs to begin impressing fast.
Whatever the line-up, United have the beating of Derby County, regardless of Wayne Rooney’s presence.
The truth that the older players who will feature are the weakest hyperlinks in any reserve XI demonstrates the handbrake that Solskjaer has been dealing with on account that his arrival.
If they desire to earn a stay of execution or impress future employers, they want to deliver at Derby. It can also properly be their final chance.