The Nations League schedule was always a giveaway and the Premier League’s confirmation next season will start on the weekend of September 12 makes for a taxing summer for the Manchester clubs and Wolves.
Should United reach the Europa League final on August 21 they will have 22 days until the next domestic season starts. Nobody would wish another United-Wolves fixture on the world in 2020, but a minor compromise would be the clubs play each other in the last round of matchweek one matches.
City, favourites to progress to the Champions League last eight, would have 20 days if they make the final in Lisbon. Clubs whose campaigns finish with the final day on Sunday will have a 48-day gap between the seasons.
The unavoidably quick turnaround already provides certain managers with an easy excuse if they falter in the next league season. Discussions about the Premier League’s restart were rife with vested interests – mainly among clubs at risk of relegation or those precariously placed in the top four – and next season’s date was always going to be an imperfect one after a three-month hiatus.
United are in an especially invidious position in that their starters already appear careworn 36 days on from the restart. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have been mindful of the 2020-21 start date yet has risked the durability of United’s regulars over a period that could still end in acute failure.
It is just as well United do not host LASK Linz, already shaping up to be an outing for competition winners, until 10 days after their final day decider at Leicester. There are five or six-day gaps between the knockout matches in the Europa League but even if United show the alacrity of their 2007 summer window – when they agreed deals for Anderson, Nani, and Owen Hargreaves before June – they cannot register any new players in the Europa League.
So Solskjaer is saddled with the same squad he assembled in lockdown training until United leave for Cologne, though the schedule allows Solskjaer to rest his first-teamers and field the first XI in their knockout ties – provided all are fit.
The snap reaction from some fans on Twitter is United should toss off the Europa League if they secure Champions League qualification at Leicester, which would be a betrayal of the club’s ethos. United have not gone this long without shaking the silver polish since the late 80s and the manager has already endured two quarter-final and two semi-final ejections.
However awkward United’s position is, they have been preparing for the upcoming summer window since its last edition closed. They could find themselves in the peculiar position of jettisoning players who were sifting for their passports to go to Germany, or even while they are in Germany. The window opens on Monday and the Champions League proviso does not apply to every United target.
Jack Grealish has no qualms about what European competition United are playing in next season, though prising him from Aston Villa could be more onerous if they emerge from the relegation quagmire. United attempted to set up the framework of a deal for Grealish in February, though.
That 2007 summer really was halcyon days for United, so buoyed by their first championship in four years Ferguson served up champagne for the press. He was also smarting from a Champions League semi-final humbling by AC Milan when, a little like now, the manager was reliant on a select group of players who were knackered in a slog of a season where a Treble briefly beckoned.
Ferguson was flawless in the close season, jettisoning Kieran Richardson, Gabriel Heinze, and Alan Smith, and reinvigorating the squad with Nani, 20 at the time, and the teenage Anderson, as well as the experience of Hargreaves and streetwise craft of Carlos Tevez. United assembled their greatest ever squad and won the Premier and Champions League double.
That 2007 summer was when Solskjaer surrendered to science; his knee too chronic to continue after a commendable 11-goal season in 2006-07. He would hardly have got a look-in with Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney cutting through teams like the shark in Jaws. Louis Saha was also still lingering.
United have more dead wood to hack off but the 2007 summer was Ferguson at his most decisive and the last year he refused to stand still before the Glazernomic pinch of 2009. United need at least four signings in what is shaping up to be another taxing summer.