The good news – and the concerns – about Manchester United's run-in

·5-min read
Bruno Fernandes in Manchester United kit - - Clive Brunskill/GETTY
Bruno Fernandes in Manchester United kit - - Clive Brunskill/GETTY

It's the business end of the season and Manchester United are still fighting on three fronts, having already secured the first silverware of the Erik ten Hag era with the League Cup. But can United end the season with more titles?

The Challenge

Scroll to continue with content

Manchester United have already played 46 matches in all competitions this season. To put that into context, it is more games than Brentford, Fulham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Wolves, Leeds, Everton, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and Bournemouth will each face in the entirety of the campaign and the same number as Newcastle, whom they face at St James’ Park on Sunday. The match will be the first time United have played Newcastle since beating them in the Carabao Cup final in February.

Whereas United could play as many as 19 more matches over a 63-day period this season, their rivals for a top-four berth only have the Premier League left to focus on. Tottenham have just 10 games left to play while Newcastle, who will go level on points with United if they win this weekend, and Liverpool each have 12 remaining league fixtures.

Should United beat Brighton to reach the FA Cup final on June 3, and also compete in the Europa League final in Budapest three days earlier, it will mean a 65-game season spanning an eye-watering 302 days. Only once in their history would they have played more matches in a single campaign: the 2008/09 season when they navigated 66 fixtures.

How are they coping?

United had 15 representatives at the World Cup in Qatar and there were signs, after the Wembley final against Newcastle, that a hectic season for club and country was taking its toll.

Luke Shaw blamed United’s 7-0 humiliation at Liverpool on complacency after a first trophy success for six years but, against West Ham and Fulham in the FA Cup and the first half against Real Betis at Old Trafford in the Europa League, fatigue appeared to be increasing.

United are fitter and more structured under Ten Hag than they have been at any point in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and better able to maintain intense bursts in matches. A full pre-season, which involved plentiful double sessions working on fitness, shape and patterns of play, provided an invaluable platform. But Ten Hag has been drawing predominantly on the same pool of players and the workload has been particularly pressing for some.

United’s de facto captain, Bruno Fernandes, has more more minutes (4,571) and has played more games (53) for club and country than any other outfield player in Europe’s top five leagues. In fact, Fernandes, Lisandro Martinez, Marcus Rashford, Fred and Casemiro are in the top 25 for appearances made for club and country in the leading five leagues.

Do they have the strength in depth?

Ten Hag’s most immediate concern is the Casemiro-sized hole in his midfield. United must navigate the league games against Newcastle, Brentford and Everton over the next eight days without their Brazilian lynchpin, owing to suspension.

By the end of his third ban of the campaign, Casemiro will have missed eight of 16 domestic matches over an 11-week period. On the upside, it should mean he is fresh for the run-in but the stand-ins like Scott McTominay – who scored four goals for Scotland during the international break – and Marcel Sabitzer must deliver in his absence.

It does not help that fellow midfielders Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek are both unavailable through injury (Eriksen could be back at the end of April) and that United’s attack has been depleted by the loss of Argentine winger Alejandro Garnacho for weeks with an ankle problem.

Rashford pulled out of the England squad with a niggle and Ten Hag will hope his key attacker benefited from the respite. He also has Raphael Varane fully fit after a minor problem.

What about United's forgotten man?

Anthony Martial has made just nine starts in all competitions after a season blighted by an array of injuries. Ten Hag has deliberately not rushed the France striker back this time with a view to ensuring he stays fit after the international break.

If he can find form and fitness, the 27-year-old could be critical to United’s hopes over the coming weeks. Loan signing Wout Weghorst has led the line in Martial’s absence but the Frenchman would offer the pace and goal threat the Dutchman lacks and could help to ease the burden on Rashford.

Martial aside, there are other players in the squad who were missing for large spells in the first half of the season – such as Jadon Sancho and Aaron Wan-Bissaka – who are integrated again and could be important.

Are their fixtures kind?

United have already played Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool home and away. There are tricky trips to Newcastle, Brighton and West Ham to come and there will be pressure on the Brentford match at Old Trafford on Wednesday given their 4-0 humbling at their place in August.

They have a kinder run-in than Liverpool and Newcastle, who face three successive away matches after United’s visit plus Arsenal still to come, and a similar one to Spurs, even if it is the sheer volume of games in such a short space of time that represents the biggest headache.