Manchester United are facing a full-back crisis ahead of Saturday’s already challenging Premier League fixture against Leicester City at Old Trafford, with potentially up to three of the club’s four most prominent right-backs and left-backs ruled out of the game through injury.
Further up the field, United will be missing Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial in what will be a significant attacking loss, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka is also a major doubt because of a back injury to further compound the existing absences of Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot.
It is a cruel blow for Wan-Bissaka, who has made a fine start to the season since his move from Crystal Palace and was forced to pulled out of the England squad after his first senior call-up.
Shaw hasn’t been seen in action since United were beaten by Palace last month, while a hip injury has kept Dalot out since pre-season and even resulted in the young Portuguese defender heading to China at the end of August for a 10-day course of specialist treatment.
It leaves club captain Ashley Young, who came into the team to replace Shaw just before the international break, effectively guaranteed to start. The 34-year-old, while lacking overall quality, is never short of effort and can operate on either side of the back four.
But the question as to who else will start doesn’t have an obvious answer.
It could be that Wan-Bissaka is passed fit and plays. That would be preferable, but Solskjaer sounded less than optimistic when he discussed the 21-year-old’s progress at his weekly press conference and wasn’t prepared to put his chances of playing at any more than ‘maybe’.
The other options are scattered.
On the left, United could turn to Marcos Rojo, who represented Argentina this month for the first time since the 2018 World Cup. The 29-year-old hasn’t played for United at all this season and only made it into a matchday squad for the first time when Shaw was injured.
One alternative on the right is home-grown Axel Tuanzebe. The 21-year-old is typically a centre-back by trade, but he has played as a full-back for both United and loan club Aston Villa. He has been the first reserve centre-back on the bench all season and Solskjaer, who has very deliberately favoured youth, may view this situation as an opportunity to reward his patience.
Victor Lindelof has been known to play at right-back on occasion, but Solskjaer is unlikely to want to break up the partnership between the Swede and Harry Maguire in the centre of defence. Phil Jones has also played there in the past, although he has been an outcast so far this season and hasn’t yet been selected for a single matchday squad either.
Which player the United boss picks could create an extra place for a back-up, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that could be 19-year-old academy graduate Brandon Williams.
Predominantly a left-back, but versatile enough to play on both sides and even in the centre, Williams spent most of last season in United’s Under-18 team and was occasionally captain.
After a couple of outings at a higher level in January, he has made the permanent step up to the Under-23 ranks this season and has seriously impressed at Premier League 2 level.
He turned 19 just 10 days ago but had already been captaining the older age group.
Williams is certainly part of Solskjaer’s thinking as the local talent was included in the travelling squad for last season’s historic Champions League last 16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain. Even though he didn’t make it into the final 18, it was still an important moment.
Like many of his more senior teammates, Williams has also been on international duty this month. He was part of the England Under-20 squad alongside club-mate Angel Gomes and started both games for the junior lions against Netherlands and Switzerland.
Solskjaer is very unlikely to throw Williams in at the deep end and start him against Leicester, contrary to what some fans might wish to see. But being part of the larger first-team squad for the day seems a no-brainer, while a place on the bench could feasibly open up.
And if he’s at least on the bench, anything is possible when the game actually kicks off.