Manchester United is preparing for what could be a season-defining week, with Erik ten Hag’s team facing Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, followed by West Ham United in the FA Cup fifth round just a few days later.
Prior to that, the Red Devils must overcome La Liga leaders Barcelona in their second leg, Europa League play-off match at Old Trafford, with the tie finely poised following a dramatic 2-2 draw in Catalonia.
The Premier League side will undoubtedly have an advantage in that upcoming meeting, with La Blaugrana missing the youthful midfield pairing of Pedri and Gavi due to injury and suspension, respectively, albeit with Ten Hag still likely to be concerned with containing the influence of compatriot – and summer target – Frenkie de Jong.
Although the latter was unusually unsuccessful in the first leg at Camp Nou, failing to make a single important pass, the 25-year-old may very well command the game for his side if given the chance, having been rated as “amazing” and “special” by his former Ajax boss last week.
While there may be a desire to deploy a similar system to the one that worked so well away from home a week ago in order to limit De Jong’s influence, with Casemiro, Wout Weghorst, and Fred forming a makeshift midfield trio, the return of both Marcel Sabitzer and Scott McTominay may have given the United manager something to think about.
Will Scott McTominay face Barcelona?
It’s possible that the latter guy may start following his recent injury absence, with the aforementioned Fred being typically wayward against Leicester City at the weekend, losing possession 14 times.
If the Brazilian is ruled out, McTominay, who came off the bench against Leicester, might take his place, with the Scotland international capable of providing a powerful and imposing presence in the center of the pitch.
The £60k-per-week master is a “physical monster,” as previous manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described him, with De Jong and co unlikely to like the thought of facing the 6 foot 4 beast, who rates in the top 6% of his European contemporaries in aerial duels won.
Although the 26-year-old has flaws, having been labeled as “not good enough” earlier this season by club veteran Roy Keane, he showed his worth on Sunday, winning three of his five ground duels and recording a 100% pass accuracy rate.
According to Sir Alex Ferguson, McTominay is clearly a player for the big occasion, and tomorrow’s mouthwatering meeting could prove an opportune time for him to demonstrate that he still has a role to play at the club moving forward, with the goal of making life difficult for De Jong and his midfield colleagues.