When the final whistle blows at the end of Thursday’s Europa League match against Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova, Manchester United will have 17 days to prepare for the Manchester derby against Manchester City.
The match against Leeds United at Old Trafford on Sunday has been postponed due to insufficient policing, with thousands of more police officers slated to be redeployed to London ahead of the Queen’s burial on Monday. As a result, United’s first international break of the season will begin earlier than intended.
While numerous members of the squad will travel to other parts of the world to meet up with international colleagues, certain players, like Erik ten Hag, are anticipated to stay in Manchester and reflect on the season so far and plan for what lies ahead.
The short travel across town to the Etihad on October 2 will mark the start of a grueling month, with no fewer than nine fixtures in the space of just 29 days. It is a time when United’s players will be tested to the limit of their physical and mental ability.
While the chore of navigating nine matches in less than a month would be difficult for any team, United also have European football to contend with, but fortunately, they only have one Europa League away journey to make in October – a trip to Cyprus to face Omonia Nicosia in the first week. That doesn’t make the process any easier, because the fixtures come thick and fast.
Fortunately, after the trip to Cyprus, three of United’s next four games are at Old Trafford, with their lone away trip requiring a short trek along the M62 to Goodison Park to face Everton. That is one aspect of Ten Hag’s October schedule that he may be thankful for.
Omonia will visit Old Trafford a week after meeting United in Cyprus, kicking off a run of three consecutive home games for the Reds, with Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur also scheduled to visit M16 in the same week. Following the Spurs game, United will have back-to-back Saturdays in London against Chelsea and West Ham United, with a Europa League match against Sheriff sandwiched in between.
It promises to be a crucial phase in the development of United’s season. Not only will it be a crucial period for their top-four prospects, as they face City, Chelsea, and Tottenham, but it will also have a significant impact on their Europa League aspirations, as they play half of their group games in just three weeks.
Such is the demand that will be placed on Ten Hag’s players, the Dutchman is going to want to keep the Carrington treatment room as clear as possible; he is going to need every single player available to him since changes to his starting line-up are going to be essential. Ten Hag will have his first opportunity in October to demonstrate why he has frequently emphasized the significance of having a large squad.
“We need a complete squad with lots of competition because there are a lot of games,” Ten Hag remarked during the club’s pre-season tour of Australia in July. “There is a World Cup in the middle of the season.”
“We need a full team with intense rivalry among the players.” We need to take them to the next level.”
With such a short turnaround in between games, with United’s longest break without a game next month standing at just four days, everyone in the squad will have to be ready when Ten Hag calls on them; he needs everyone to be at the top of their game and ready to step into the ring when needed.
Ten Hag has been reluctant to tinker with his favored line-up in the Premier League in recent weeks, which has resulted in limited opportunities for Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fred, and Casemiro.
That will change next month, due to the increased strain on the squad; October promises to be taxing, but it could also be a window in which specific players if they perform well, can change Ten Hag’s mind.