Manchester United will discover so much about themselves between now and the end of the season.
And those lessons, even if the current bid to claim a remarkable Premier League title is — as many expect it to be — unsuccessful, will stand them in very good stead.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been coy when addressing United's title hopes this season, purely because it's clear he did not anticipate that his side would get remotely close to Liverpool and Manchester City, last season's runaway top two.
So perhaps it is those other issues, key transfer and contract decisions, that will tell United how their squad is shaping up for 2021/22, the season when Solskjaer ought to be expected to challenge for the biggest prizes.
This is why the debate over Donny van de Beek's playing time has felt a little premature this season. He may have been signed in the 'summer' window, though it was actually September when United clinched that £35million up front deal for the former Ajax star.
Solskjaer referenced Victor Lindelof and Fred — who both had almost year-long adjustment periods at Old Trafford before settling properly — when defending his use of Van de Beek in a recent press conference.
And more recently, the Norwegian has admitted extra competition for places is making it hard for him when picking a team.
"It really feels like we’ve got the strength in depth," he said before the 2-1 win over Fulham — when Van de Beek remained an unused substitute once again.
"I have to leave some players even out of the squad when they deserve to be in the squad but it’s a good challenge and conundrum to have for the right reasons.”
Van de Beek is at least on the bench rather than out of the United squad completely.
But with two, or possibly three, key exits in and around the Dutchman's position over the next six month, his situation can soon change and Solskjaer can be vindicated.
The United boss has admitted he is unsure whether Juan Mata will remain at Old Trafford beyond his current contract expiry date of June this year. The club have the option to trigger a year extension in the Spaniard's contract, but Mata is approaching the age of 33 and rarely starts the most important games for United.
With Jesse Lingard far more certain to leave in the summer — if he does not depart this month — that will be two options for the No.10 position gone. Andreas Pereira, on loan at Lazio this season, will surely be another. None of the trio ought to provide United with too much of a dilemma, even if Mata has been a very loyal servant since he was signed by David Moyes in January 2014.
Paul Pogba would be a much greater loss, that much is certain, especially considering his recent form. But his exit in the coming summer also looks very likely following Mino Raiola's latest shot across United's bows.
Manchester United beat Fulham 2-1 thanks to goals from Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba.
Pogba once again turned in a high-class performance as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side reclaimed top spot in the Premier League. Now United turn their attention to another clash with rivals Liverpool, this time in the FA Cup fourth round.
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Solskjaer deserves credit for his handling of Pogba in recent weeks, extracting something resembling top form out of the Frenchman. And the Norwegian might speak effusively about Pogba's work ethic and attitude in training but that does not mean he will stay until his own contract expires in June 2022. United will surely cash in, leaving yet another spot in the squad open for Van de Beek.
It will be interesting whether United choose to sign a midfield reinforcement or two in the summer window. If they go for an elite talent like Jack Grealish, as well as a defensive-midfielder, then the Van de Beek concerns will justifiably grow.
If not, then Van de Beek will prove to be Pogba's replacement, and maybe even Mata's as well. His game time will increase significantly.
The debate around the Dutchman will not be settled in the coming weeks. United's plan for last September's signing might only be revealed in full when July or August 2021 come around.