Alexis Sanchez, Fred: Manchester United players with point to prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Solskjaer has signed a three-year deal as Manchester United boss
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 28/03/19 9:17pm
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been named Manchester United's permanent manager, but which players have a point to prove to him between now and the end of the season?
Is time running out for Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United? The Chilean has struggled badly since his arrival at Old Trafford from Arsenal in January of last year, with injuries and indifferent form raising serious questions of the decision to make him the club's highest earner.
Sanchez has not been helped by the knee ligament injury which is expected to keep him out until next month, but even when he has been fit enough to play his performances have fallen well below expectations. He has only scored two goals in 23 appearances over the course of the campaign.
Finding suitors for Sanchez might prove tricky given how highly he is paid at United, but winning Solskjaer over won't be easy for him either. "I can't do anything about Alexis Sanchez," he said in February. "When he plays he needs to find himself because we know there's a quality player there."
Fred was a peripheral figure under Jose Mourinho in the first half of the season and it has been a similar story under Solskjaer. The Brazilian has only started five games out of 19 under the new boss.
It falls a long way short of what was expected of him when United parted with £52m to sign him from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer, but could his improved performance in the 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month serve as a turning point?
Fred was only included due to a raft of injuries and suspensions that night, but he did not disappoint, helping United to a famous European win. The challenge now is to produce more of the same between now and the end of the season. Only then will he be able to convince Solskjaer that he can become a key player.
He remains a popular figure on and off the pitch, but with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, Juan Mata's future is uncertain.
The Spaniard has featured sporadically recently, with Solskjaer favouring fast, dynamic players for his counter-attacking playing style. Does Mata fit into that philosophy? Or could his time at Old Trafford be drawing to a close?
"I'm calm [about the situation]," he told Spanish newspaper AS recently. "I'm at the fantastic club that is Manchester United, one of the biggest in the world. I have to think about the short term and do well from now on."
Manchester United are expected to invest in a new centre-back this summer, but Chris Smalling will be eager to convince Solskjaer that he does not need one in the remaining months of the season. The Englishman's place looks more at risk than that of Victor Lindelof, who has featured consistently under the new boss, so the pressure is on to impress.
Smalling was outstanding in the win over Paris Saint-Germain, but that was followed by less impressive performances against Arsenal and Wolves. If he is to keep his place in the side beyond this season, he will need rediscover his best form in the weeks ahead.
Smalling is not the only centre-back with a point to prove. Eric Bailly has shone at times since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2016, but his form has been inconsistent and there have been injury problems too.
The signs are not encouraging right now. In his last appearance, during United's win in Paris, he was substituted in the first half after a nightmarish opening period at right-back. He has not returned to the team since then and he has now returned from international duty with Ivory Coast having suffered a head injury.
He will need to make the most of any chances that come his way between now and the end of the season.