It was supposed to be a difficult match against Burnley in the EFL Cup due to the fact that celebrities were absent due to the World Cup, and some of them did not have the sharpness of the match.
Despite the absence of the top three central defenders, Eric Ten Hag’s team managed to reach the quarterfinals of the Cup and now has a real chance to win silver.
But the Premier League is not so forgiving of stages, and with Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers in line, the Dutchman has a huge hole to fix.
World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez and finalist Rafael Varane are not expected to return until the end of the year, which means the Red Devils will be without their two best central defenders in the last two games of the championship of the year.
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Another serious blow was the illness of Harry Maguire. The England central defender has lost his starting place under the current coach, but is impressed by the excellent performances for the “Three Lions” in Qatar.
The former Ajax boss did not say when the club captain is expected to return. “Harry, unfortunately, he is ill,” the Dutch boss told MUTV.
“It’s a problem because Rafa and Leach were in the World Cup final, but we choose Case [Casemiro], he plays there more often, as well as Luke [Shaw], which he himself said: “I can play at centre-back,” which is really good, so they’re all committed and want to play.”
Casemiro did line up defensively against Burnley, but his presence will be needed in midfield against superior teams.
👊🏼🗞 Ten Hag on Maguire's availability: “I can’t answer because Harry is sick. I don’t know how that develops. We have to wait. Maybe the coming hours, maybe the coming days, and then we will see if he is available for Forest.” [MU] #MUFC pic.twitter.com/kgCEPDQMDy
— United Radar (@UnitedRadar) December 23, 2022
As suggested by Luke Shaw, he can play as an improvised defender, as he did during the reign of Ole Gunnar Sulscher in some cases.
Gary Neville mentioned it on Sky Sports after witnessing the Red Devils huffing and puffing on their way to the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
“It looks like Martinez will stay at least a couple of weeks, Varane is clearly injured, and it is unknown when he will return.
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“And if Harry Maguire is ill, they will potentially come out with a really weakened defence for these Premier League games.
“I think if they were playing against a Premier League team tonight, they would be punished, so they need to get some players back quickly.”
Among the solutions is the play of Scott McTominay along with the only suitable senior central defender Victor Lindelof.
The Scottish star played in this position with Jose Mourinho and Sulsher, not to mention the national team.
This would allow Ten Hag to continue playing in his favorite midfield pair in the person of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, which, in turn, would allow his team to dominate the ball and win back the ball as quickly as possible.