Erik ten Hag is about to find out which players want to stay at Manchester United
Erik ten Hag penned some prescient programme notes for the Sevilla match. On a night two first-teamers succumbed to injury, it was apposite the Manchester United manager paid homage to four squad players.
“I must also pay tribute to players like Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer, who have made vital contributions in recent games,” Ten Hag wrote. “That is what we saw with Harry Maguire on Saturday, as we saw with Victor Lindelof in previous games, and it is precisely that spirit and mentality we want at this stage of the season: that every player has to be ready to come in and perform if we are to achieve our aims.”
Maguire and Lindelof are expected to be parachuted into the team at Nottingham Forest with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez on the treatment table. Maguire has had the benefit of playing in three of United’s last four halves but Lindelof has started twice in the Premier League this calendar year.
Also read: United make European squad change amid injury crisis
The manner of Maguire’s entrance in the League Cup final, as much to be ready to lift the trophy as to preserve United’s clean sheet, suggested his race was run. Yet he has overtaken Lindelof as Ten Hag’s prime reserve centre-back.
Lindelof is unhappy about that development and the timing of his snubs against Real Betis and Fulham last month teed him up to talk with uncertainty about his United future while on international duty in Sweden.
Forest would be Lindelof’s sixth appearance for United in the last two months, so he was hardly worthy of mention in Ten Hag’s thank you note. For only the second time in his United career and the first since his maiden season with the club, Lindelof may not break the 30-game appearance barrier.
Lindelof played 45 games in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season and 47 in the second. That Scandinavian solidarity marked Lindelof as one of Solskjaer’s favourites. Last season was traumatic as Lindelof suffered an episode during the 1-0 win at Norwich and then contracted Covid-19. Before he boarded the plane home to Manchester after playing in London, he was informed of a break-in at his home. Lindelof’s wife heroically gathered their two sons and reached the panic room.
Under Ten Hag, Lindelof formed an impressive axis with Lisandro Martinez during Varane’s absence in the autumn. He has faded into the background since the season restarted in December; all the more peculiar as United plan to sell Maguire in the summer.
The back four at Forest may have Solskjaer’s fingerprints all over it. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a renascent right-back and Ten Hag spoke optimistically about Luke Shaw’s return.
Sabitzer seems certain to start his sixth successive game and there would be merit in making his loan move permanent if Bayern Munich do not overinflate the value of a 29-year-old. McTominay was a key cog in both home wins last week and Ten Hag is the fourth United manager the Scot has endeared himself to.
The aforementioned quartet are ready when called upon. So is Facundo Pellistri, who comes on with a near guarantee of creating a goalscoring opportunity. Others have not looked ready.
“So now others are on and when their time is there you have to show it and contribute to the team,” Ten Hag stressed. “You have to be ready. That is what we expect and that is what we demand.
“If you want to find excuses then you don’t have to play for Man United, then have to look for another club. You have to wait for your moment and when the moment is there you have to contribute, bring a performance and that is what we demand.”
As a colleague noted, United could have as many as 13 sellable assets in their squad this summer. There are question marks over the futures of Lindelof, Maguire, McTominay and Sabitzer beyond this season but their importance over the next eight days cannot be overstated.
Even if they are squad players.
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