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Manchester United’s ‘winter’ friendlies and what Erik ten Hag can achieve with them

Manchester United went into the World Cup break on a high with a 2-1 Premier League win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. The Red Devils were on the cusp of playing out a draw before a moment of magic from Alejandro Garnacho produced a 93rd-minute winner.

The Argentine, who was voted as United’s Player of the Month for November, enhanced his glowing reputation with another terrific cameo. His maiden league goal sees United within three points off fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, and both teams are equal 5th favourites on online sports betting sites for winning the title or finishing in the top four.

As many as 16 United stars are currently at the World Cup with their respective countries, but they are still several high-profile players including Garnacho, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial and David de Gea, who will be part of the winter training camp in Spain.

The Red Devils are due to face Cadiz and Real Betis as part of their mid-season tour, but there are plenty of things that Erik ten Hag could work upon. The winter friendlies offer the manager with the chance to try out more youngsters as he did in early pre-season.

The likes of Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage, Charlie McNeil and Shola Shoretire could be involved. Garnacho’s recent breakthrough is a firm example that Ten Hag is not hesitant to play academy graduates and the door is open for more youngsters to make the grade.

Elsewhere, senior players such as Jadon Sancho and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have the chance to win over the manager’s confidence. The former has looked a shadow of the player from his Borussia Dortmund days and he is now in a special training programme in the Netherlands.

Sancho is currently training with OJC Rosmalen under Ten Hag’s recommendation and the Dutch tactician will be hoping to revive the winger’s old form ahead of the restart. On the other hand, Wan-Bissaka is facing a make-or-break spell which could decide his United future.

He was completely out of favour before the World Cup break with just four competitive minutes. The manager preferred an attacking full-back in Diogo Dalot over him. Ten Hag may use the upcoming tour of Spain to find out whether Wan-Bissaka can try and adapt to his tactics.

If not, he could be shown the exit door in January. The same can be said for Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe. The duo have been injured for the season, but they are possible alternatives that the manager could consider for the right-back spot for the busy end of the campaign.

Looking at the regulars, Ten Hag will be hoping that Anthony Martial can play maximum minutes across both friendlies. The Frenchman has been injured on three separate occasions this term, but his form has been sublime with four goals and two assists from just seven appearances.

Keeping him fit has been a prime concern and the head coach will be hoping that his main striker will come out of the friendlies unscathed. Regardless of this, the club should look into pursuing a new centre-forward unless Ten Hag believes that McNeil could break into his plans.