|Photo from Manchester United.|
First of all, the break is crucial for everyone. Not even just United, but all the teams in England’s top flight that are coming off a jam-packed two months. But in the Reds’ case, after having to compete in four competitions, this time off could prove to be a life saver.
For some context, this hectic schedule began mid-November for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his men. From Nov. 24 until Feb. 1, United played 21 games. Yes, you read that right. It was essentially a game every three days, with a few exceptions, but the point is — that’s borderline inhumane.
As nice as it is for us fans and media, because there is some football to watch pretty much everyday, it’s just not fair on the players. There is barely enough time for appropriate recovery before they have to lace up their boots again for another 90 minutes of football. And in some cases, even more than that.
Every human body has its breaking points, and in some United players, such as Daniel James, the exhaustion was becoming more evident with every game.
The 22-year-old winger, initially brought into the club as more of a project rather than an immediate contributor, has seen way more minutes this season than anyone would have ever anticipated, himself included. Solskjaer himself admitted that 15-20 games was probably the ideal target for the dynamic wide man this season. Well, he’s already played 30 in all competitions, and we’re only in February.
James did hit the ground running for United, though. So, the consistent selections were justified early on in the season. But due to United’s incompetence in the transfer windows over the last number of years, once his inevitable dry spell came, there was no one really there to replace him. The squad massively lacks in depth and everyone is well aware of that.
The time that James certainly needed in order to continue his development and adapt to the Premier League was never given to him. He very quickly became a key part of United’s first-team set up, and eventually, it felt like he simply burned out. Or was on the verge of it at least.
In a perfect world, the Premier League would work with its clubs to manage the fixture load more, or perhaps even extend the season. But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, we have the new winter break, and for James and United, it came at the perfect time.
United’s form was very up and down during the hectic near 10-week span As was James’ individual output. But, the one thing that you cannot take away from the Welshman is his commitment. The energy and tenacity with which he plays are ever-present. He never leaves anything out on the pitch. James was once even labeled as the best defensive winger in the league. That speaks volumes of his excellent work rate.
But, eventually, that will take its toll. And as United’s plane was set to jet off for their warm weather training camp in Marbella, Spain, it would probably be safe to assume that James was one of the many players on board who were finally able to take a deep breath of relief.
That’s why this break may prove to be invaluable. The players are still training, but most of all, it’s down time. A change of scenery, some time to relax and further bond with the team. It was well needed for everyone.
If United are to contend for silverware and a Champions League spot after the break, they will need James to be firing. Notching up 3 goals and 6 assists in all competitions so far, James will have to contribute more in the final stretch of the season in order for United to have a shot at achieving their goals. And we know he’s capable of it.
James has already proved on many occasions that he can be a valuable asset, particularly in the big games when there is a ton of space to run into. What this break gives the Welshman is an opportunity to recharge his batteries and hone some of his skills before the decisive weeks roll around.
As aforementioned, his work rate can’t be questioned. But, his end product still leaves a lot to be desired for. We’ve seen glimpses of what he is capable of, but not consistently enough. But there is a player there. And potentially an important one for years to come if he can match his blistering pace with a cooler head and improved deliveries.
It’s almost impossible to put into words how huge the next few months are for United. The futures of players and possibly even the manager are on the line. But if things fall into place, the team can still have a very good season topped with trophies and top four. But in order for that to happen, everyone has to be fresh and chomping at the bit to give everything for the club when called upon.
All the fans will hope that James and his teammates will come back ready to fight. And they will have to, as an away day at Chelsea is set to welcome United back from Marbella. The action packed schedule picks up right where it left off once the Reds finish their break. But the squad is going to be reinforced too.
The desperately awaited returns of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba are pretty much imminent. Eric Bailly is now back in the fold and set to be joined by fellow defender Axel Tuanzebe. And we have Bruno Fernandes. With all of those back, United’s options no longer look as slim. Marcus Rashford may be back for the final month too, arguably just when United will need him most.
And with all of that being said, there should be no excuses. While the squad is not fantastic, there is enough quality there when at full strength to pull United over the line before they can address further reinforcements in the summer.