Injuries can, of course, be sheer misfortune — a bad tackle, a mistimed movement — but they can also be cumulative, the effect of a player pushed too far into what Arsène Wenger used to call the “red zone.” But that is not the only consequence of fatigue. Even if injury is avoided, performance can dip.
It is this, more than anything, that should give Solskjaer and Manchester United pause. United’s captain, Harry Maguire, has played 3,946 minutes this season entering the weekend, an order of magnitude greater than every other outfield player in England. He has played the equivalent of five full games more this season than his nearest rival, Leicester’s Youri Tielemans.
But Maguire is not alone. United has seven players who have played more than 2,700 minutes this season. Leicester and Everton have only one, Chelsea two, and Spurs and West Ham three. Even Liverpool, its options reduced because of all those injuries, has only five. If fatigue does prove to be a factor, the core of United’s side is more likely to be afflicted in the final stretch than anyone else.
To some extent, of course, that is offset by its resources: Solskjaer has options should any of his key players be sidelined or suffer an alarming drop in form. Having to play Donny van de Beek because Bruno Fernandes needs a rest should be no great sacrifice.
Indeed, that may well be the formula, more than any other, that comes to define the next two months, that serves to find the signal in the noise of this season. More than in any other season, the final prize on offer in the Premier League will go to the teams that can best minimize the effects of fatigue, thanks to a reduced workload or by possessing the strength in depth to ride it out. In all the chaos, in the end, there will be some sort of order.