Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga are set to make their Premier League debuts for Manchester United after being named in a much-changed starting XI against Leicester City.

United welcome Leicester to Old Trafford on Tuesday amid a controversially hectic schedule that most recently had them in action on Sunday, and they will play again on Thursday.

The postponement of United's clash with Liverpool is partly to blame, with that game called off after Reds Devils supporters stormed Old Trafford in protests against the club's owners.

Solskjaer has been openly critical of the Premier League's unwillingness to find an alternative solution and acknowledged the packed nature of their schedule this week will require him to make full use of his squad.

While it is a bone of contention for Solskjaer, for Amad and Elanga it offers a glorious opportunity.

The two teenage wingers are set to make their Premier League debuts, with 19-year-old Sweden youth international Elanga yet to appear for United's senior side in any capacity.

Amad, on the other hand, has featured five times from the bench in the FA Cup and Europa League, scoring his first goal for the club in the latter against Milan in a 1-1 draw exactly two months ago.

Solskjaer has been patient about throwing him into the starting XI despite indicating fairly early on after joining up with the squad in January that he was nearly ready.

Elanga has been highly regarded in the United youth setup for quite some time, having been the most recent recipient of the club's Young Player of the Year award, a gong previously won by the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Marcus Rashford.

A dynamic and tricky left winger, Elanga has been in fine form for the club's Under-23s this term, scoring nine goals and setting up another two in 16 Premier League 2 appearances.

He's also attempted more dribbles (60) than any other United Under-23s player in 2020-21, highlighting his confidence on the ball.

The teenagers are just two of 10 changes to the United team from the 3-1 win over Aston Villa, with Mason Greenwood the only player to keep his place.

Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Rashford are among those on the bench.

Defeat for United will seal the Premier League title for rivals Manchester City.

Manchester City's wait for a third Premier League title in four years went on after they suffered a 2-1 defeat against Chelsea at the weekend.

Pep Guardiola's side do have an unwanted statistic to their name in that ratio, however, having now lost three of their past four league outings at the Etihad Stadium.

Another trend to continue was Manchester United falling behind before beating Aston Villa 3-1.

As the season reaches its final stretch, players will be well aware it's a marathon not a sprint. Indeed, one of the division's most noted pace merchants has proved again he is adept at lasting the course.

Using Opta data, we take a look at these talking points from the most recent round of Premier League fixtures.

Aguero's Panenka woe continues City's penalty torment

Sergio Aguero knows a thing or two about scoring the goal to clinch a Premier League title, so City probably felt they had the perfect man standing over Saturday's penalty against Chelsea, with Guardiola's much-changed side 1-0 up thanks to Raheem Sterling.

But Aguero's awful chipped effort gave Edouard Mendy chance to go to ground, stand up again and catch the ball – a moment of complete embarrassment for the Premier League's all-time leading overseas goalscorer.

None of the misses have been quite as, well, hilarious as the one Aguero conjured up, but he joins Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Sterling in having failed from 12 yards this season.

These are not new problems, with those misses making City the first team since Tottenham in 1993-94 and 1994-95 to fail from four or more penalties in consecutive seasons.

Overall, City have missed 32 of 130 Premier League penalties, with Spurs (33), Liverpool, Aston Villa (both 34), Arsenal (36) and Manchester United (40) the only teams more profligate.

Of teams to have taken at least 50 Premier League penalties, Villa's 67.6 conversion percentage (71 from 105) is the worst. City have scored 98 out of 130 (75.4 per cent).

Marcos the marksman

When wing-back Marcos Alonso scuffed home Chelsea's winner at the Etihad Stadium, the inclination was to celebrate an "unlikely hero". However, the Spain international is no stranger to the scoresheet.

Alonso has now netted 24 goals for the Blues – the same number as Alvaro Morata and Daniel Sturridge and three more than Andriy Shevchenko.

In the Premier League era, only John Terry (61), Branislav Ivanovic (34) and Gary Cahill (25) have scored more often as Chelsea defenders.

Among his current team-mates, strikers Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, with 39 and 30 respectively, are the only players with more goals for the club.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the forthcoming transfer window sees Alonso go into next season as Chelsea's leading club scorer.

Premier League record in sight for Solskjaer's comeback kings

When Bertrand Traore put them ahead on Sunday, Villa might have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

Sure enough, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani were on target after Bruno Fernandes equalised from the penalty spot.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side now have 31 points from losing positions, bettering their previous best of 29 in 2012-13, when Alex Ferguson rounded off his celebrated tenure with one last title success.

In their four remaining games this term, United could overhaul the Premier League record of 34 points gained after falling behind, set by Bobby Robson's Newcastle United in 2001-02. Their 10 wins after conceding first in 2020-21 is already a competition best.

The Red Devils also claimed 24 points after going behind in 1999-00, when they retained the title. Arsenal emulated that feat in the same season, also doing so in 2011-12.

The equivalent of eight wins from behind has also been achieved by Everton in 2002-03 and Tottenham in 2010-11, the same campaign when West Brom turned deficits into 27 points.

Game of two halves for Traore

Coming from behind to win obviously requires a certain level of collective improvement throughout games. Individually, Adama Traore certainly seems to warm to his task as matches progress.

The Wolves winger netted the equaliser before Nuno Espirito Santo's men beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1.

That was his seventh career goal in the Premier League – all of which have been scored in the second half.

Traore's haul is the highest of exclusively second-half goals in the competition's history. His old Villa team-mate Rudy Gestede, former Middlesbrough midfielder Phil Stamp and ex-Newcastle and Ipswich Town forward Alex Mathie each have six.

Karel Poborsky, Gerald Sibon, Emre, Craig Fagan, Pablo Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Jose Holebas and Adam Smith all have five second-half Premier League goals, having never troubled the scorers before half-time.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists he will do everything he can not to jeopardise the fitness of his Manchester United players during this week's packed schedule.

United continued their habit of coming from behind to win by sinking Aston Villa 3-1 on Sunday, goals from Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani after a Bruno Fernandes penalty maintaining their slim mathematical hopes of winning the Premier League title.

Victories over Champions League-chasing Leicester City and Liverpool at Old Trafford on Tuesday and Thursday would close them to within four points of leaders Manchester City before Pep Guardiola's side travel to Newcastle United on Friday.

City only need three points from their remaining three matches to clinch a third championship success in four seasons, and Solskjaer does not feel it would be responsible to select full-strength teams and risk injuries.

"I wish I could have said let’s go full out in all the games but it’s impossible," said the United boss, who has frequently criticised the decision to reschedule the Liverpool game for this week after the initial encounter was postponed due to protesting fans storming Old Trafford and blockading the team hotel on May 2.

"That's the hard bit for me – knowing that if I do play these XI again on Tuesday and Thursday, it's impossible.

"I run too much of a risk of injuring them, so talking about integrity in the league and stuff, don't blame me when I have to make changes, because I have to. It’s not safe for them to play all four, so I’ve got to prioritise."

As such, Solskjaer will look towards some of the younger members of his squad, with Amad Diallo and Shola Shoretire pressing to feature.

"They're in contention, yeah, and they're in the first team squad, they're training with us every day so I would think that some of the young boys will get an appearance, definitely.

"If it's coming on towards the end or if it's starting I don't know because I don't know how the players will be on Tuesday when we see them."

Forwards Anthony Martial and Dan James are set to miss out once more, while Harry Maguire is expected to be sidelined as United wait to find out the full extent of the ankle injury their captain suffered at Villa Park.

Eric Bailly replaced Maguire at the weekend and would appear best-placed to start, although Axel Tuanzebe provides another centre-back option.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talked up the importance of Manchester United getting the best out of Edinson Cavani next season in a possible hint over the striker's future.

Cavani came off the bench to score United's third as they rallied from a goal down to beat Aston Villa 3-1 on Sunday and prevent Manchester City from being crowned champions.

A defeat would have guaranteed the trophy for Pep Guardiola's side and the Red Devils were losing at half-time thanks to a brilliant strike from Bertrand Traore.

However, a Bruno Fernandes penalty and a Mason Greenwood finish turned the game on its head in the second half before Cavani nodded home his eighth goal in seven games.

Cavani also became the third United player to score five Premier League goals in a single season as a substitute, following in the footsteps of Javier Hernandez in 2010-11 and manager Solskjaer in 1998-99.

As yet, there has been no confirmed agreement between the Uruguayan and the club over extending his stay at Old Trafford by another 12 months, but Solskjaer appears optimistic of keeping the 34-year-old.

"His movement, his desire to score goals... A great cross from Marcus [Rashford]," Solskjaer told Sky Sports when asked about the qualities that Cavani brings to the side.

"We're getting to learn Edinson as well, and hopefully, we can use him more next season."

Greenwood's goal took him to 16 in the top flight, surpassing the previous record of 15 for a Red Devils teenager in the competition set by Wayne Rooney.

"He's top," said Solskjaer. "I was thinking maybe curl it far post, but he goes near post. He's got all the finishes. Mason had a long night on Thursday [against Roma] and worked really hard today.

"You think maybe you could take him off at half-time, because the boy needs some rest, but it just shows that he can do the best."

While United's win ensured the title race will continue for now, the 10-point gap to City at the top means they must realistically win their remaining four matches and hope their rivals pick up no more than a point from their final three games.

With fixtures to come against Leicester City and Liverpool between now and next weekend, United's chances of prolonging City's wait for the trophy appear to be slim.

Solskjaer, though, was delighted to prevent City from celebrating on Sunday, especially given his players had been on duty for the Europa League semi-final second leg against Roma three days ago.

"That's a good thing, that's the best thing with today. At least I don't drive into a blue army tonight," he said. "We'll try to deal with it as long as we can.

"[It is a] massive result; it takes a little bit of the pressure away, we can go into the next one confident, enjoy it. I'm delighted. It was always going to be difficult after being in Europe; [we] didn't come back until half four in the morning on Friday.

"Great reaction at half-time again, even though I felt first half we were the better team, created the better chances but couldn't find the goal.

"The advantage of being fresh going into a game like this is quite high. We could have scored the first goal, they scored from nothing, with a good goal by the way, but I'm pleased with everyone. I know how hard it is towards the end of a long, long season."

Harry Maguire is a potential fitness doubt for Manchester United's Europa League final after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his captain could miss a "few weeks" with the injury sustained against Aston Villa.

The England centre-back was visibly hurt following a challenge with Anwar El Ghazi in Sunday's 3-1 comeback win and had to be replaced by Eric Bailly after 78 minutes.

Red Devils boss Solskjaer is waiting to learn the extent of the damage to the lower leg injury, and with the Europa League final against Villarreal scheduled for May 26, Maguire's status for the fixture is unclear.

"Hopefully that [the final] will be okay with Harry," Solskjaer said. "I don't know. We need to check it. It might be a few weeks or a month - we don't know.

"It was his calf or lower leg. I think the player landed on him and he twisted something."

However, Solskjaer clarified that the damage may not be too bad as he waits to learn of the damage.

"I don't know how serious it is. He might be available on Tuesday, he might not," he added.

Maguire had previously played every minute in the Premier League since joining from Leicester City. His run of 71 games in succession means he only tied Gary Pallister for an outfield United player in the competition – with the ex-Red Devils defender coincidentally also seeing his streak ended by injury at Villa Park in the 1995-96 season.

"Harry has been excellent and it's almost unheard of, the minutes he's played," Solskjaer said. 

"His fitness is very good – he's robust. But, today, it looked like the boy landed on him and he twisted his ankle."

For the 10th time this season, United had to come from behind in an away league match to avoid defeat, with a Bruno Fernandes penalty and efforts from Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani cancelling out Bertrand Traore's fine first-half strike.

Greenwood – who with 16 Premier League goals now has the most as a teenager for United, beating Wayne Rooney's previous benchmark of 15 – hailed the character to fight back again.

"It is some achievement. We don't really want to go behind but it gives us a little boost to come back and get the win," he told BBC Sport.

"It was well-improved [in the second half]. Ole said his bits in the changing room. It seemed to pay off.

"To be on the main stage and scoring important goals like today, it means a lot.

"We just concentrate on ourselves, we take it game by game. We want to get as many points as we can and keep the pressure on [Manchester City]."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accepts he will have to rotate his Manchester United side to avoid injuries in a daunting run of three Premier League games in five days.

The Red Devils face Aston Villa on Sunday before hosting Leicester City on Tuesday, with Liverpool then visiting Old Trafford 48 hours later for the match that was rearranged following protests against the United owners last weekend.

It will be the first time United have played three league games in five days since April 1992. On that occasion, they beat Southampton 1-0 at home before drawing at Luton Town and then suffering consecutive defeats to Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Liverpool. They ended up losing the title to Leeds United by four points.

While winning the Premier League will be beyond them if leaders Manchester City beat Chelsea on Saturday, second-place United still require four more points to be certain of a top-four finish and have a Europa League final to come on May 26.

Solskjaer is concerned about a repeat of the results they suffered 29 years ago and is eager to make sure his players do not become burned out.

"I've never seen that schedule before in modern-day football," he said. "I've looked through and I know Man United in 91-92 had a very similar run-in and you can see how the results deteriorated.

"If I'm going to look after the players, I'm going to make some decisions. I've got to look after the players, that's the biggest thing, [avoiding] injuries to players and that's too much of an injury risk.

"This year has been so difficult, but we're happy to put games on. It's so important to be safe with security around, I understand all this, it's got to be safe for the players.

"We want to try to put a good product out there. At the moment, it looks difficult, but knowing these boys, they'll take the challenge head-on. Knowing me, I'll take the challenge head-on too but I cannot risk the players, so there has to be rotation.

"It has to be a lot of rotation and decisions made on the day of the game. We can't prepare for the games like other teams, when they get a week or two, or maybe five or 10 days."

United were in Rome on Thursday, where they secured a place in the Europa League final with an 8-5 aggregate win despite losing the semi-final second leg 3-2.

They must now prepare to face Villa, who have beaten United just once in the past 44 Premier League meetings and in none of their previous 21 such games at Villa Park.

"I trust my players to get a result," Solskjaer said. "First of all, Sunday is a big game for us. Sunday is a massive game and we're looking forward to it after the boost of [reaching] a final, which will probably give us energy, hopefully give us energy and then let's see what we do on Tuesday and Thursday.

"We've just got to take it day by day and hopefully we can play those games."

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Edinson Cavani showed why the club want to keep him at Old Trafford after leading the Red Devils into the Europa League final.

Cavani scored twice in a 3-2 second-leg loss away to Roma on Thursday, but United still reached the tournament decider 8-5 on aggregate.

United star Cavani, who is out of contract at the end of the season following his arrival ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, found the back of the net in either half to ensure the Premier League giants reached their first final under Solskjaer.

After his opening-leg brace, Cavani became the first player to score two or more goals in both legs of a two-legged semi-final in a major European competition since Klaus Allofs for Cologne in the 1985-86 UEFA Cup. 

The 34-year-old Uruguay forward – linked with Boca Juniors – has scored 16 goals in his past 15 Europa League appearances, including 15 in his last 10 starts in the competition, while only against Monaco (15) has Cavani scored more goals in all competitions in his European career than Roma (13).

As United try to convince Cavani to prolong his stay in Manchester, Solskjaer hailed Paris Saint-Germain's all-time leading scorer.

"Edinson showed again why we want to keep him at Old Trafford," Solskjaer told reporters as United look ahead to a May 26 showdown against Villarreal.

"Football has its own language. I think Edinson has proven tonight, in the previous game, throughout his career, what a centre-forward should be doing, both on and off the ball.

"Both preparing for games and recovering from games, he's an absolute top professional, and everyone can learn from him. Everyone in my team."

United won the opening leg 6-2 in Manchester, but they were far from their best against Roma in the Italian capital.

Edin Dzeko and Bryan Cristante were on target for Roma on Thursday, while Nicola Zalewski's late strike deflected in off Alex Telles to earn the Italian side a victory on the day.

A stunning comeback could have been on the cards if not for United goalkeeper David de Gea, who made 10 saves in total to thwart rallying Roma.

De Gea has lost his starting position to Dean Henderson in the Premier League amid uncertainty over his future, but Solskjaer added: "David was vital. He was man of the match for me, the standout performer.

"The final's still three weeks away. We've got many games, but David put a very good application in, of course, with his performance. The proof is always on the pitch. You've got to perform and you keep your place in the team when you play well."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Manchester United's fixture schedule will be "physically impossible" for his players in the wake of their progress to the Europa League final.

Despite losing 3-2 in the semi-final second leg on Thursday, United secured their place in a cup final for the first time under manager Solskjaer with an 8-5 aggregate win over Roma.

United started with a strong side in Rome despite their 6-2 first-leg win, with Edinson Cavani scoring in each half to help the Premier League giants progress despite goals from Edin Dzeko, Bryan Cristante and an Alex Telles own goal.

The Red Devils must now return for a hectic run of three Premier League games in five days. They visit Aston Villa on Sunday, host Leicester City next Tuesday and tackle Liverpool next Thursday in a match that was postponed from last weekend due to supporter protests against the owners.

Solskjaer appeared resigned to the fact his players are unlikely to be able to play at their maximum against three tough opponents.

"It's unheard of," he told BT Sport. "[The decision] was made by people who have never played football at this level. It's physically impossible for the players.

"We have not been dealt a good hand. We are going to need everyone for these four games. It's a short turnaround, but we have to be ready."

United had lost their previous four semi-finals under Solskjaer, including in last season's Europa League, and they needed Cavani's goals and 10 saves from goalkeeper David de Gea to keep Roma at bay amid a somewhat erratic performance.

"It feels good to be in the final," said Solskjaer. "We played one very, very good half at Old Trafford, which has taken us through. I'm disappointed we lost, especially the way we played in the second half.

"It could easily have been 8-6 to them. It was a strange game. We kept giving them the ball but luckily we have one of the best keepers in the world. We are in the final and are looking forward to May 26."

Captain Harry Maguire accepted United gave up too many opportunities in the Italian capital and was full of praise for Cavani's clinical scoring touch.

"It's a great achievement to get to the final," he said. "We didn't win the game and that's disappointing but we did the hard work in the first leg.

"We started the game a bit edgy. It was end to end like basketball and we gave them too many chances in the second half.

"Now we've got to go to the final and win it. Edinson scored two great goals and his movement and work rate without the ball is excellent.

"His second goal is typical of him and what he has done throughout his career."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not know whether Mason Greenwood fancies the hard knocks of being a career centre-forward.

Greenwood is in line to make his 100th Manchester United appearance when Solskjaer's side look to complete the job in their Europa League semi-final against Roma, taking a hefty 6-2 lead to the Stadio Olimpico.

The 19-year-old forward came off the bench to complete the rout at Old Trafford last week before being denied the chance to continue that form when fan protests saw last weekend's scheduled meeting with Liverpool postponed.

Greenwood has played most of his football over the past two seasons as a right-winger, but Solskjaer cautioned a keen eye for goal is not the only attribute needed when it comes to being a specialist striker.

"The Liverpool game was going to be his 100th game and we spoke about getting the winner in that," he said.

"We've spoken about whether he's going to be wide right or be a number nine, because you've got to stick your head in there.

"He's a pretty boy and I'm not sure if he's going to do that.

"Keep doing what he does, he's got a very bright future, I'm sure of that."

Greenwood scored 17 goals in all competitions for United in 2019-20, equalling the best season by a teenager in the club's history – level with George Best (1965-66), Brian Kidd (1967-68) and Wayne Rooney (2004-05).

The going has been tougher this time around, with 10 goals in 46 games across all competitions.

A look at Opta's expected goals (xG) figures for Greenwood show a sharp drop-off in his Premier League finishing.

Last term, his 10 league goals came from efforts with a combined xG value of 2.9 (39 shots), a huge over-performance.

In 2020-21, he has five top-flight goals – a shade over an xG of 4.6 (56 shots).

United great Gary Neville believes Edinson Cavani committing to another year at Old Trafford would be beneficial for Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, and Solskjaer gave a cautiously positive update on talks with the experienced Uruguayan.

"We've had some good chats lately and even though the decision is still in his court, I'm still hopeful," he said, Cavani's masterful showing of two goals and two assists to demolish Roma still fresh in the memory.

"And maybe even more so when you saw him on Thursday against Rome and telling him 'when you do that in front of the Stretford End [with fans in attendance], that's magic'."

United's attacking options will be slightly diminished in the Italian capital, with Dan James "still out for a little while", according to his manager.

Solskjaer added that Anthony Martial could feature again for United this season, despite initial fears a knee injury suffered on international duty with France would bring a premature end to his campaign.

"Anthony's looking good. He's just about started outside jogging, which is the first step on the rehab," he explained.

"He's done most of the work in the gym and to see him out there getting some fresh air is good. Hopefully we will see him before the season is out.

"He's supporting the team, he wants to be a part of the final and he's working hard to be available before that."

Paul Pogba joked he would understand if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left him out of his starting line-up more regularly as Manchester United boast a better win rate without the midfielder.

Pogba has been in good form for United of late, scoring one and assisting four more in his last seven appearances in all competitions.

The France international has six goals to his name overall this season, including three in the Premier League and the same number of assists.

That puts Pogba level with Luke Shaw in terms of direct goal involvements for United in all competitions this season and behind Mason Greenwood (seven), Anthony Martial (seven), Edinson Cavani (10), Marcus Rashford (18) and Bruno Fernandes (27).

However, despite Pogba's clear influence on the side, the statistics show United tend to fare better without the 28-year-old in their starting line-up.

The Red Devils have won nine of the 15 matches Pogba has not been included from the first whistle in the top flight this term, compared to 10 wins in 18 games with him in the XI – 2.2 points-per game compared to 1.9 respectively.

United's average of 2.3 goals per game without the ex-Juventus man in their starting line-up falls to 1.6 when he starts, meanwhile, and they concede fewer goals (0.7) when he is not included from the beginning than when he is (1.4).

When the win-rate figure was pointed out to him in an interview with Canal+, Pogba – who has been linked with Juve and Real Madrid – said: "Well then you will have to bench me! I didn't know that. 

"If the team is doing better without me, I would understand completely if the coach puts me on the bench and that is totally normal. 

"I will keep that one in my mind, I will. That is a good challenge for me."

Pogba's figures have improved in terms of average number of interceptions (up from 0.52 to 1.27) and tackles (1.49 to 1.72) this season compared to last, owing to the deeper position he has been asked to play in.

And the World Cup-winning midfielder is happy to play his part if it means others helping United to achieve their targets.

"I try to be as decisive as possible, despite being further from the goal," he said. "I have other qualities than those of being a match winner. 

"I'm deeper on the pitch and more defensive. It's an N'Golo Kante role, let's say. I feel good. Physically I feel better."

The 2018-19 season was not one Manchester United fans would remember particularly fondly, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment provided cause for optimism.

United finished sixth in the Premier League but reached a Champions League quarter-final and gathered momentum in the second half of the campaign with Solskjaer at the helm.

Supporters could hope a number of the players at Old Trafford would be able to form the basis of a title-winning side in the coming years.

And so it proved this week as Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian got their hands on domestic silverware – in Inter colours.

That quartet played a combined 88 Premier League games for United in 2018-19 but this term turned out together for Inter, accounting for 107 Serie A appearances.

While Sanchez, Young and Darmian have each played their part, it might be Lukaku's success in Italy that causes United the most distress.

They made their money back on the £75million signing, but he is now a champion while Solskjaer's side, as when Lukaku left, trail rivals Manchester City.

Rom rewarded by Ron role

United had not been the only club willing to part with such a sum to sign Lukaku in 2017, as former club Chelsea, coached by current Inter boss Antonio Conte, sought to bring back the forward they had sold to Everton for around a third of the price three years earlier.

Despite 15 league goals – arriving every 170.8 minutes across 31 matches – on loan at Goodison Park as a 20-year-old in 2013-14, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho turned instead to Diego Costa to lead their successful title charge.

"[Lukaku] wanted to play for Chelsea but wanted to be the first-choice striker," Mourinho said. "That's very difficult to promise."

Delighted Everton manager Roberto Martinez's described Lukaku's "potential" as "quite unique", but criticism of the striker's finishing would find its root in his first season as a full-time Toffee.

Although there were 20 strikes in all competitions, just 10 came in the Premier League as chances worth 11.3 expected goals (xG) brought eight non-penalty goals.

Lukaku's conversion rate dipped to 9.5 per cent as he passed up 12 big chances – situations from which Opta would reasonably expect a player to score.

However, 11th-placed Everton's issues extended beyond a young player's slight regression.

In turn, Martinez moved away from the fast-breaking attack that brought 1.4 counters per game – none of which ended in Lukaku goals – in 2014-15 and opted instead to station his striker in front of goal. It provoked 220 touches in the box and 18 goals from Lukaku, yet could not rescue the manager.

Incoming coach Ronald Koeman may now be more familiar with making the most of the diminutive talents of Barcelona's attack, but he certainly knew how to get the best out of Lukaku.

The new Everton manager's solution was simple: build everything around Big Rom.

Heading away from the direction Martinez had taken the team and their talisman, Lukaku took just 12.5 per cent of his touches in the penalty area, as he instead had clear career highs in duels (588), aerial duels (322) and successful dribbles (63).

The forward scored 25 times in the league – taking 22.7 per cent of his chances to outstrip his xG by 9.5 – and had 31 goal involvements. He looked the complete package.

More Mou's man than Ole's

The complete package is certainly what United would expect for a £75m outlay. What they got was a steady debut season.

Ten goals in Lukaku's first nine matches for the club in all competitions hinted at a continuation of his 2016-17 Everton form, but the rest of the campaign had more in keeping with his earlier outings on Merseyside.

There were 16 league strikes, still ahead of his xG of 12.6, but also 11 big chances missed. No longer required to carry the load alone, Lukaku's total shots fell from 110 to 86 and his conversion rate dwindled to 18.6 per cent.

Still, Mourinho stood by his man.

Having started all but five of United's league games in 2017-18, Lukaku was again included in the XI in 12 of their first 17 matches the following season.

But when Mourinho was sacked shortly before Christmas, Solskjaer had no such loyalty to a striker who had failed to kick on, contributing just six goals.

Lukaku completed the full 90 minutes on seven occasions under Solskjaer, who turned instead to Marcus Rashford as his main striking option.

Rashford only scored one more goal than Lukaku over this period and missed two more big chances, but criticism hurt the Belgium international and a hamstring injury in April 2019 brought a premature end to his season – and his United career.

"A lot of people don't think I can be part of that team," Lukaku later told NBA star Josh Hart's LightHarted Podcast. "If it's like that, we can go our separate ways.

"You guys can find someone who really fits the bill and I can go."

Counted on by Conte

Lukaku certainly fitted the bill at Inter. New Nerazzurri coach Conte needed a replacement striker as Mauro Icardi's love-hate affair with San Siro's Curva Sud finally reached its conclusion.

Having failed to recruit Lukaku at Stamford Bridge in a move that might have suited all parties better than the United switch, Conte added the striker to a squad intent on ending Inter's wait for the Scudetto.

Not since 2009-10, with Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito paired in attack, had Inter reigned, but they now had another forward partnership to enjoy.

On paper, Lautaro Martinez might have been considered the 'little man' to Lukaku's 'big man', yet Conte has increasingly resisted the urge to use his talented giant as a battering ram.

Although Lukaku remains capable of bullying defenders – only in two Premier League seasons did he win more aerial duels than 2019-20's 93 – Conte has followed Koeman's example and made sure to involve his number nine in everything Inter do.

Not since his final season at Everton has Lukaku attempted or completed more dribbles (97 and 52 in 2020-21), meaning he is back facing the goal again, involved in 13 counter-attacks – his most since 2014-15. He also has 10 assists for the first time.

Yet Lukaku is still taking the largest share of his touches in the box to date (18.3 per cent), leading to a career-high 35 big chances.

From such positions, he can afford to squander 17 big chances and net only 16 non-penalty goals from efforts worth 16.8 xG, another new benchmark.

"Lukaku has made exceptional improvements but can make even more," Conte says.

Martinez, now his coach at international level, feels the development is clear for all to see. He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "Romelu became a complete player, obviously thanks to Conte."

Lukaku is now scoring with a staggering 23.6 per cent of his shots – making him the first Serie A player since 2004-05 to tally 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season – and Inter are champions.

United and those critics have long since disappeared into the rear-view mirror.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted he wants to keep Paul Pogba amid doubts over his future.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of next season and there have been question marks over the French star since his agent Mino Raiola claimed his client's time at United was "over" in December.

Linked with a Juventus return and move to Real Madrid, Pogba has been in inspired form for United, who are second in the Premier League and on the brink of the Europa League final following Thursday's 6-2 semi-final first-leg rout of Roma.

"No, of course not," said Solskjaer when asked if he would have the club cash in on Pogba at season's end ahead of Sunday's showdown against rivals Liverpool.

"I have always said with Paul that I enjoy managing him, I enjoy coaching him, I enjoy talking to him and I also enjoy challenging him because he is a winner.

"He wants to be better and that's why he listens. You can see he's enjoying himself here as well.

"He has a smile on his face. It's important we treat each other with respect and I try to treat everyone with the same amount of respect.

"But there are some players you have known since they were young lads and that's the case with Paul: the longer you have known them the easier it is to have a bond with them."

Pogba has scored six goals in all competitions for United this season, including three Premier League goals and as many assists.

United have avoided defeat in both meetings with Liverpool in all competitions this season (W1 D1) – the last time they faced the Reds as many as three times in a season without losing any was in 1998-99 (W2 D1), with this the eighth campaign they have met more than twice since then.

In the Premier League, United have won just one of their last nine meetings with Liverpool (D6 L2) and are winless in five against the Reds (D3 L2). They last had a longer winless run against Liverpool in the top-flight between December 1989 and October 1992 (seven games).

United have drawn seven league games 0-0 this season – only in 1980-81 (eight) have they been involved in more goalless draws in a single league campaign. The Red Devils have the most goalless draws of any side in the Premier League this season.

Liverpool's trip to Manchester United on Sunday will likely be the most watched and fiercely debated match of the weekend in the Premier League, but in a sense there is feeling of it being something of a damp squib.

Perhaps it would be different were fans allowed into Old Trafford, but for the time being they remain absent.

Make no mistake, both teams still have particular ambitions to achieve this season. It's not quite a dead rubber.

But regardless of achieving their respective current targets – reach the top four for Liverpool, and United securing second place in the assumption Manchester City won't suddenly capitulate – there will still be a sense of unfulfillment.

United want more, Liverpool expected more.

Realistically the best Liverpool can hope for now is fourth, and even then that looks a tough ask, while United will seemingly have to settle for second. Although by no means a poor season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, the Red Devils' fans will surely never be entirely happy with second, especially when it's their neighbours finishing above them.

City have, for the majority of the season anyway, been considerably better than the rest. So what can United and Liverpool do to potentially bridge the gap next season?

MAN UNITED

Seek more from the right side of the defence

In recent years, when United have had issues with their team they have perhaps been too willing to chuck a load of money at the issue – maybe that's the solution here, or maybe there are young talents coming through who are ready for the next level, only Solskjaer really knows that.

Nevertheless, an area where United can improve is the two right-hand berths of their defence.

While Aaron Wan-Bissaka has proven himself a very capable defender, it's fair to say he's still lagging behind in the attacking department. His 26 chances created isn't horrendous, but there's undoubtedly a lot of room for improvement.

For example, Wan-Bissaka's 78.7 touches per 90 minutes this term is only slightly fewer than Luke Shaw's 82.2, but the left-back has played 130 (196 compared to 66) more passes into the penalty area. He's far more forward-thinking and at the moment that gives United a certain predictability in the final third.

No one would say Wan-Bissaka is a lost cause, but currently he has no competition. Shaw's improvement since having Alex Telles to put pressure on him has been considerable – perhaps such encouragement would work for the right-back as well?

Wan-Bissaka's lack of effectiveness in attack is certainly not their only issue in defence, however – Victor Lindelof appears to have hit a ceiling.

Although stylistically he seems a decent fit for Solskjaer's system as he is comfortable in possession – as evidenced by his 13 goal-ending open-play sequences being bettered by only Maguire among Premier League centre-backs – teams tend to target him because he's far less domineering.

Not since 2016-17 has Maguire averaged fewer than three aerial wins per game: Lindelof's never even reached three, while there have also been concerns about the Swede's positioning.

That's highlighted by the fact he averages considerably fewer interceptions per 90 minutes compared to Maguire (0.9/1.8).

Get an actual right winger

Again, it remains to be seen whether United's move here would be to buy or trust youth – after all, they did spend a small fortune on Amad Diallo last year, though his influence has been minimal at most since linking up with United in January.

Mason Greenwood seems their best option on the right at the moment and his form has picked up significantly of late after an underwhelming first two-thirds of the season. His ineffectiveness at times this term paved the way for Daniel James to get back into the side, and few United fans would consider the Welshman to be anywhere good enough as a long-term, first-choice option.

While Greenwood has certainly been an effective presence out on the right at times, he's not exactly been an effective creator – nine players (to have featured at least 10 times) in the United squad can better his chance creation frequency of 0.8 per 90 mins.

Now, perhaps that's partly skewed by his early season form, yet only Bruno Fernandes (3.3) averages more shots than Greenwood (3.2) each game.

With Edinson Cavani reportedly set to stick around for another season, United might opt to begin moulding Greenwood to become his replacement, thus freeing up the right-wing slot for someone else.

Facilitate a Pogba and Fernandes partnership

You'd think this would be simple, and recent evidence has strongly suggested they can coexist – after all, both were excellent against Roma on Thursday.

But since Fernandes joined, United have only won 55.2 per cent of games across all competitions in which they've both featured, as opposed to 72.2 per cent when one or the other has been missing.

Few would disagree that they are United's two most talented players, but occasionally squeezing them both into the side has resulted in Pogba being shunted out wide. While still functional there, that's clearly not the best use of his talents.

Developing their partnership may require Solskjaer to loosen the strings of pragmatism a little. He likes to play Fred and Scott McTominay together in the midfield when some feel they might be better off with just one of them.

Now, whether that's because he doesn't truly trust Pogba and Fernandes off the ball, or if he's actually not convinced enough by Fred nor McTominay defensively, only he knows.

But allowing Pogba and Fernandes to consistently thrive in the same team would surely work wonders for United in the final third.

LIVERPOOL

Provide better cover for Alexander-Arnold

If there's one Liverpool player who's shouldered the most criticism in this underwhelming title defence it's arguably Trent Alexander-Arnold.

But some of the flak has been a little harsh, whether it's been focused on his attacking productivity or defensive positioning.

Granted, his chance creation is down from 2.5 to two per 90 minutes and that's understandably been reflected in an assists decrease from 13 to five.

But the flipside to that is in 2019-20 he massively over-performed his xG value of 9.7, whereas this term there's only a 0.8 difference (five assists, 5.8 xG). This suggests that, where he was benefiting from his team-mates' brilliant finishing last term, in 2020-21 that's not been the case.

As for his defensive output, there's little evidence to suggest he's doing worse. On the contrary in fact, he's actually averaging more tackles, tackles won and interceptions than in 2019-20, while only one perceived error by Alexander-Arnold has led to a shot this season. He was guilty of three in the title-winning campaign.

The key thing we have to consider when analysing Alexander-Arnold's season, however, is the extent of Liverpool's defensive injuries.

It would be fair to assume that he's not been quite as much of an attacking threat because he's been playing in an often-makeshift defence, holding back a little because the threat of an opposing attack is greater without the likes of Virgil van Dijk.

Presuming Van Dijk and Joe Gomez stay fit next season, that in itself is a much more solid base. That may, in theory, provide Alexander-Arnold with the necessary assurances that encourage greater attacking impetus.

Get more from Thiago

Another Liverpool player whose ability has been called into question a lot this season is, remarkably, Thiago Alcantara. A key cog of Bayern Munich's all-conquering 2019-20 side, but on Merseyside he's had to contend with plenty of doubters.

While he was initially seen as the final missing weapon to Klopp's arsenal, the kind of player who could provide greater creativity in a midfield that beforehand was more functional that fun, many have since gone full revisionist.

Many of the concerns have related to suggestions he's not the right fit for Liverpool's intense style of play, particularly how high up the pitch they press.

But there is very little evidence to back such claims up. PPDA data suggest it's actually nonsense. PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team's own defensive third divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third.  

Liverpool's this season is 10.6 whereas Bayern's last season was 9.8, indicating that Die Roten actually press slightly higher than the Reds.

No, the far likelier cause of Thiago's underwhelming season is probably the human side of football. It can be easy to forget sometimes that footballers are people too. Having your first season at a club mired by injury problems, which also affected you, and contracting coronavirus cannot be the ideal situation.

We'll surely only get a better grasp of Thiago's suitability at Liverpool next season.

Refresh the frontline

As Mohamed Salah continues to thrive, his excellence not only highlights himself, but also casts a shadow of doubt over Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

While critics have been unconvinced by Firmino for some time, despite clearly offering a lot to the Reds when at the peak of his powers, questions over Mane are a rather newer phenomenon.

In 2019-20 he had a hand in 25 Premier League goals (18 scored, seven set up), but he's on less than half of that at the moment (eight goals, five assists).

Having outperformed his xG by 4.4 last season, he's now 3.9 under his xG value of 11.9 for 2020-21. Firmino's under-performance in 2019-20 was five, this term it's 4.4.

For Mane, this means that where he was proving to be remarkably deadly in 2019-20, he's now wasteful – Firmino is spurning more opportunities than he should, again.

Nevertheless, Mane's form over the previous two seasons probably has him quite a lot of credit in the bank – if anyone's at threat, it's Firmino.

Diogo Jota has proven a versatile and dependable alternative to all of the front three, but Klopp might prefer more of a focal point at the tip of the attack in the long run.

If there's anywhere in the team attack where the Reds might feel that can get someone better, it's probably in the place of Firmino.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has urged Manchester United supporters to "keep it peaceful" with their protests against the club's owners.

A demonstration by disgruntled fans is expected to take place before Sunday's Premier League clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford.

The Glazer family's ownership of United has not been popular for many years, but the club's involvement in the recent European Super League plans saw confidence in the hierarchy take a further hit.

United signed up but then withdrew from the competition 48 hours after the league was launched, along with domestic rivals Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool. 

Executives and owners of those clubs have taken flak from fans who objected to the 'breakaway' nature of the Super League. There have been supporter protests at various grounds around the country, and now United's stadium could see a big turnout from disenchanted fans.

"It's important the fans' views are listened to and we communicate better," Solskjaer said.

He added: "When the protests are going on, it's important that they go in a good fashion and that we keep it peaceful."

Solskjaer was unsurprisingly not inclined to criticise the owners, instead pointing to the support he has found when looking to strengthen the United squad.

"My job is to focus on the football side," said the Norwegian, whose team sit second in the Premier League and have one foot in the Europa League final.

"I've been backed, I've had great support from the club and the owners, and I'm sure I will get the backing again to go one step further."

United's 6-2 win over Roma on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final should mean the return game in Italy is as near to a formality as such matches can be.

Now United have a chance not only to tighten their grip on second place, but also to dent Liverpool's Champions League qualifying prospects.

Jurgen Klopp's Premier League champions have seen their crown slip this term, and they trail fourth-placed Chelsea by four points with just five games to play.

Defeat at Old Trafford would be a hammer blow to those hopes, but Solskjaer dismissed the idea it could be on his players' minds.

He said: "We're just thinking about winning ourselves. Whatever that does to Liverpool cannot be of our concern.

"Throughout the season you have games you look forward to and this Liverpool game at home is one of the biggest games of the season.

"It doesn't matter if we're first or second or third or fourth. No matter what, this is a massive, massive game."

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