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Erik ten Hag may soon field Manchester United’s strongest XI



Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw are injury concerns that are likely to delay Erik ten Hag ‘s chance to name an XI that could be considered his strongest.

Two in and two out? Christian Eriksen and Casemiro may be on the Old Trafford pitch to observe the Europa League anthem on Thursday evening but it is unlikely Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford will be.
It would have been remarkably good fortune had Manchester United entered this week with one significant injury to contend with (that’s Alejandro Garnacho, not Donny van de Beek). Rashford’s apparent groin strain in attempting to trap Eriksen’s lofted pass is a potential sliding doors moment. Rashford’s 28 goals account for 32.5% of the 86 United have scored this term.

Ten Hag considered removing Rashford with United only 1-0 up against Everton. That would have been a risk as United converted one of their 21 attempts at goal in the first half alone. When Anthony Martial tapped in the contest killer, perhaps Rashford’s number should have been up.

“I had that consideration but in that moment, you want also Anthony Martial, just coming back, you want to bring them back into routines and togetherness,” Ten Hag explained. “Because when they are together we have two goalscoring players, clinical players, who can finish games and that’s what we need in the final stage of the season to be successful. That’s the reason why we kept them on.
“Also, there was no indication, when there was an indication in the last days or this game, then of course I would have taken him off.”

United have not scored four goals in a single Premier League fixture all season, so Ten Hag has been seldom able to give players a breather. They have won away from home by a three-goal margin on only one occasion and five of their six away wins have been by a goal.

Ten Hag is still partially culpable. Only the wrecking ball Andy Carroll was to blame for his spiteful foul on Eriksen in the FA Cup fourth round but Eriksen should not have been on the pitch in the second half of a cup tie against Championship opposition.
United coped commendably without Eriksen in a frantic February but the ramifications of his absence were felt in the aberration at Anfield and defeat to Newcastle, where the midfield was imbalanced.
Overall, Eriksen’s 10-week lay-off was not too costly. United won the League Cup, are still in the FA Cup and the Europa League and remain in the top four. In the worst-case scenario that United are deprived of Rashford for an identical timeframe, the probability of success on three fronts would dwindle.

Martial would be viewed as the primary source of goals in place of Rashford but he is a No.9 who fails to live up to his number. United matchgoers have not seen Martial start and finish a league fixture since February 2020 – the day after Odion Ighalo flew in from Shanghai. There have been two prime ministers and four chancellors since.

So the wait for Ten Hag to pick what would be considered his ideal front three is destined to go on, possibly into May. Rashford, Martial and Antony have started together three times and United have won all three, albeit Martial lasted 29 minutes at Goodison Park.
As of Wednesday, Martial has been involved in full training for five weeks and he has not started for United since the Old Trafford derby on January 14. Ten Hag claimed that is the only fixture where he has had a full squad to choose from but Van de Beek’s season had ended against Bournemouth the previous week.

When all of United’s assets are available, the starting XI is obvious bar at right-back, where Diogo Dalot’s drop-off has become a slump and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is playing with more confidence.
In a big-game or cup final scenario, Ten Hag would be minded to pick David de Gea, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes, Antony, Rashford and Martial. Shaw, though prone to egregious performances, has not looked back since ousting Tyrell Malacia in October. Malacia’s zenith for United remains his debut against Liverpool.
When United met City – probable FA Cup final opponents should they overcome Brighton – in January Antony dropped to the bench and Eriksen was deployed as the No.10 to accommodate Fred. City are the only side that warranted a notable adjustment, for United were unchanged from the League Cup final at Liverpool.
United are five games away from two finals three days apart in late May and early June. In only a fortnight, they will know if they are still in or out of the two cup competitions.

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