Erik ten Hag faced a pivotal moment in Manchester United’s season when a strong starting XI he selected in pre-season endured a setback after just 74 seconds.
Kobbie Mainoo became an unfortunate casualty due to a challenge from Casemiro on Real Madrid’s Rodrygo.
This incident marked the beginning of a prolonged series of injuries, sidelining Mainoo for four months.
His absence disrupted Ten Hag’s plans, as United faced an unrelenting string of 38 injury cases or illnesses throughout the season, impacting the first-team lineup.
Casemiro and Mason Mount, initially intended as United’s central midfield duo, found themselves battling injuries, leading to uncertainties about the ideal partnership with Mainoo, likely favoring Casemiro.
Mount, once seen as a solution to United’s number seven conundrum, has struggled to make an impact with 12 games, zero goals, and no assists.
Hindered by injuries, Mount missed 16 out of 29 games this season, adding to the midfield challenges.
Antony’s struggles on the right-wing position open up opportunities for alternatives like Amad and Facundo Pellistri.
However, if Antony proves difficult to offload, United may need to explore other options, with Mount potentially offering versatility on the right, and Fernandes having previously played in that role.
The friendly against Madrid showcased different positional adjustments, with Mount as the playmaker and Fernandes shifted to the right.
The absence of a striker, due to the pending transfer of Rasmus Hojlund, led to Marcus Rashford starting up front.
Hojlund, despite a modest goal-scoring record, is expected to be a regular starter. Garnacho, consistently performing from the right, could continue his impressive run.
Rashford, back in his preferred left-wing role, faces competition and scrutiny for his performance.
The defensive lineup, when all are fit, may see minimal changes, with Diogo Dalot potentially replacing Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez’s return from injuries is anticipated, further strengthening the defensive options.
As United enters a crucial period in February with five Premier League fixtures, including challenging matchups, securing a win against Tottenham becomes pivotal.
The FA Cup fourth-round draw against lower-tier opposition sets the stage for a likely progression to the fifth round.
Six games in 28 days will be a significant test for United’s squad depth, emphasizing the need for the strongest XI to navigate the business end of the season successfully.