Man Utd’s next three games could confirm Erik ten Hag’s summer transfer decision
Scott McTominay may be given a rare opportunity to start with four midfielders potentially ruled out.
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Manchester United are expected to head into their first three matches after the international break with a selection nightmare in midfield.
The Red Devils face Newcastle United, Brentford and Everton between 2-8 April and taking nine points in that period would significantly strengthen the club’s chances of claiming a top-four place, before attention turns back to the cup competitions.
But United will face all three league matches without the services of Casemiro. The Brazilian has served one match of his four-game suspension following his red card against Southampton earlier this month.
There’s also an injury concern surrounding Marcel Sabitzer, who has picked up a knock while on international duty. The midfielder was an unused substitute for Austria’s 2-1 win over Estonia on Monday night, with his international manager, Ralf Rangnick, confirming ahead of the game that Sabitzer is suffering with a knee injury.
"In the end, it is a question of pain and pain tolerance for both Marcel,” said the former United boss. “We hope that Marcel will do well, especially after that first game [against Azerbaijan] in Linz. At the moment, I’m optimistic that it can work but, at the end of the day, it’s also a question of whether Marcel feels ready for it himself. At the moment, I am assuming he’ll play. It made more sense to leave them out [of Sunday’s training session] again, just to give them one more day. But there are enough other candidates."
Meanwhile, Christian Eriksen is not expected to be back just yet, although the former Tottenham Hotspur man has recently returned to training and could make his comeback in the next few weeks. Donny van de Beek is another long-term concern and won’t play again this season due to a knee issue.
It means United could return from the break with just three available midfielders: Bruno Fernandes, Fred and Scott McTominay. The latter has endured a particularly frustrating campaign and has found himself out of the side with the arrivals of Casemiro and Eriksen last summer limiting his game-time.
The Scotland international has started just one league match since the beginning of October, with January signing Wout Weghorst registering more league starts this season than McTominay. Unsurprisingly, the Red Devils are willing to allow the youth-team graduate to leave the club this summer and are hoping to bring in at least two midfielders ahead of the 2023/24 campaign.
In many ways, McTominay, a veteran of over 200 United games, could be playing for his United future during the next three games, presuming he is given the opportunity to start. The 26-year-old often impressed with his all-action, energetic mannerisms during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as manager. Yet, an inability to effectively shield the defence and his profligacy in possession have always been McTominay’s Achilles heel, and those characteristics have only been more pronounced in comparison to Casemiro and Eriksen.
Eighteen goals in 202 United appearances is a disappointing return, and he’s provided just one assist this season. In short, McTominay’s deficiencies in both final thirds vastly outweigh his buccaneering approach in the middle of the field.
Fred’s growing importance in the team has also negatively impacted McTominay’s status in the United team, and the Brazilian’s relationship with Casemiro and impressive return of 10 goal contributions have seen him usurp his old midfield partner in Ten Hag’s pecking order.
Not that McTominay’s rare starts have given his manager cause to reconsider the status quo in the centre of the park. The no.39 played 90 minutes at the Emirates in January and allowed Arsenal to dictate the game, while he was hooked at half-time in an FA Cup win against West Ham United , with Casemiro’s introduction changing the game for the Red Devils.
It’s why the upcoming games could prove so pivotal for McTominay after such a disappointing campaign, and three outstanding performances may be needed to save his United career.