Manchester United face an uphill battle in the next couple of weeks when they meet Leeds United (twice) and Leicester City in the Premier League.
The Red Devils will also face Barcelona in the UEFA Europa League play-offs.
Between February 8 and 19, United will have their hands full as they play back-to-back crucial games. Erik ten Hag will be without four midfielders in the league heading into the tight schedule.
During their 2-1 win at Crystal Palace at the weekend, Casemiro received a much-debated red card. He will now be out for three games, while Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, and Christian Eriksen remain sidelined with injuries.
With a dearth of options, the only realistic starters at Ten Hag’s disposal are Fred and the newly arrived Marcel Sabitzer. This could also open up a window of opportunity for two youngsters wanting to break into the team – Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal.
Mainoo has been impressive in the few minutes he has played for the club in the Carabao Cup this season. The youngster has already won the FA Youth Cup and could add another feather to his cap by debuting in the league during the next three rounds of fixtures.
Meanwhile, Iqbal has been more or less ignored by the Dutchman. Despite showing promise, he has failed to get opportunities under Ten Hag and is still unlikely to feature in anything but a minor capacity.
Erik ten Hag could have an ace up his sleeve at Manchester United in Kobbie Mainoo
While Fred has immense amounts of energy and a desire in his game, he is by no means a technical midfielder. Sabitzer is new at the club and has only played a handful of minutes, coming on as a substitute against Palace.
The Austrian is perhaps not Ten Hag’s safest bet when it comes to starting in the three league games as he acclimatises himself to English football.
On that basis, Mainoo could come in as a trump card for the Dutchman. The 17-year-old has already started for United this season against Charlton Atheltic in the Carabao Cup. Despite mostly playing as an attacking midfielder, Mainoo can also play in central midfield.
The youngster is energetic and has a knack for involving himself in the game. While he may not yet be ready to start in league games, Mainoo could serve as a good option to come off the bench if Sabitzer fails to adjust to the intensity of the league from the start.
With his options severely limited, Ten Hag will look to make the best of the situation and grab nine points for United in the next three league games.
He could also push ahead Lisandro Martinez or Victor Lindelof into a defensive midfield position. The centre-backs are capable ball players who can play the holding role. However, Ten Hag may not want to limit his choices in defence.
In that regard, this presents Mainoo with a great opportunity to impress the boss and get some minutes under his belt.
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