Erik ten Hag might have three players fighting for the same role at Manchester United
Manchester United will have to make do without both Christian Eriksen and Casemiro when they resume their Premier League campaign against Everton at Goodison Park next week.
United announced earlier this week that Eriksen is the latest addition to their list of injuries. He is expected to be sidelined for ‘around a month’ with a knee problem.
The midfielder was forced off in the first half of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Luton Town at Old Trafford. The clash with the Hatters had marked his third consecutive start in all competitions.
With Casemiro already on the sidelines, Eriksen had joined forces with Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes in the engine room. Erik ten Hag felt comfortable enough to deploy that trio against Fulham, FC Copenhagen and Luton, leaving summer signings Sofyan Amrabat and Mason Mount on the bench.
Though Mount has struggled to win his place in the team back after the injury he sustained towards the end of August, ruling him out for five matches, Amrabat’s recent omissions have been something of a surprise, not least because he was drafted in to provide cover and competition for Casemiro in the defensive-midfield berth. However, Ten Hag has felt comfortable enough to operate without an out-and-out defensive midfielder in each of United’s last three matches, with Amrabat’s last start coming against Manchester City on October 29.
Amrabat’s recent omissions make attempting to predict how United could look in midfield against Everton increasingly difficult. Will Ten Hag continue to operate without a midfield destroyer, or will he recall Amrabat and give him another chance to establish himself at the base of United’s midfield?
Should he elect to recall the Morocco international, granting him another opportunity to try and grow into the No.6 position, it means he and Fernandes, who signed off for the current hiatus with two goals in his last three games, would occupy two of the three midfield berths in Ten Hag’s preferred formation. Amrabat would be destroyer-in-chief, while Fernandes would be architect-in-chief, operating in the most advanced midfield role.
That leaves the deep-lying No.8 position, which was occupied and mastered by Eriksen last season, up for grabs. Mount was signed from Chelsea in July, essentially, as an upgrade on Eriksen to fill that No.8 berth.
However, he has struggled to earn regular opportunities since returning from injury in late September, starting just two of the Reds’ last six Premier League matches. Eriksen’s injury, however, has opened the door for the 24-year-old to try and lay down a marker and kickstart his United career.
He is the most obvious candidate to fill the void that has been left by the Dane. Not only was he signed to challenge Eriksen for a starting berth, he is also, by his own admission, at his best when roaming between both boxes.
Mount, however, is going to face competition for that deep-lying playmaker role from Kobbie Mainoo and McTominay. The latter, despite being the subject of transfer interest during the summer, has established himself as a regular starter again recently, starting six of the last seven matches in all competitions.
McTominay is much more comfortable and influential in attacking scenarios than in defensive ones. He likes to get forward from deep and impose himself.
Mainoo is already shaping up to be an all-rounder, capable of doing just about everything in midfield. After making the bench for each of United’s last three league matches, it will only be natural for him to start targeting minutes after the restart, following a lengthy road back from an ankle injury.
Mainoo is an athletic figure, who would assist United in transitions between defence and attack. He also has the physicality and technical ability to make the midfield tick.
Though Mount is five years his senior, Mainoo and the former Chelsea man are among the younger members of United’s midfield pool, whereas McTominay is marginally older at 26, and has constantly been linked with a move elsewhere. Mainoo and Mount are the future, at least in the short term for the latter, meaning they will be hoping to use Eriksen’s absence as an audition period to pick up the baton from him.
But in the event of Ten Hag deciding to overlook Amrabat again for what could be United’s last-ever visit to Goodison Park, that would throw an extra spanner in the works, potentially opening up starting berths for both Mainoo and Mount. Regardless of what happens, Eriksen’s absence is going to create a selection headache for Ten Hag.