They used to call Claudio Ranieri ‘The Tinkerman’ during his time at Chelsea, but a mixture of injuries, suspensions, form, experimentation and competing on many fronts has cast Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho in that role.
Mourinho made five changes to the side that drew 0-0 against Everton ahead of beating Sunderland 3-0 over the weekend, having switched four starters and his side’s formation from four days earlier at home to West Brom, which also ended goalless.
A whopping 18 United players have started at least 10 Premier League matches this term, compared to 13 for both leaders Chelsea and second-placed Tottenham.
The Portuguese gaffer has generally treated the Europa League with deference since taking over at Old Trafford – world record signing Paul Pogba has been ever present, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Juan Mata not far behind.
Following the win over Sunderland, Mourinho practically admitted that the continent’s consolation competition was paramount, presenting the Red Devils with a route into the Champions League and the chance of another piece of silverware after EFL Cup success.
With that in mind, the temptation to start returning right-back Antonio Valencia will be tempting.
That would facilitate the removal of Luke Shaw from left-back, with Matteo Darmian likely to switch sides in such circumstances.
Shaw responded well to his boss’ recent chiding with a spirited display against the Black Cats, but can’t possibly have won Mourinho over yet after such damning public indictments.
Continuity at last
The former Southampton man may be the only Stadium of Light victor to lose out, unless David de Gea returns ahead of schedule to replace impressive deputy Sergio Romero.
With injuries still keeping Mourinho honest, and vaulting youngsters such as Axel Tuanzebe and Matthew Willock to the bench in recent games, the rest of the side looks fairly settled, for a change.