It’s turning into a very unusual season for Manchester United and Erik ten Hag. There have been incredibly high highs and progress is clear for all to see, but there is a tendency for absolutely everything to go wrong all at once.
Right now, they seem to be in one of those spells. Losing 6-3 to Manchester City, 7-0 to Liverpool and 4-0 to Brentford in one season would suggest it has been a horrendous campaign with very few redeeming features.
That is not the case, though, with United winning the Carabao Cup, a game away from an FA Cup final, and the current favourites to take third place in the Premier League.
They are, however, in a tight spot before the FA Cup semi final due to both injuries and suspensions in defence.
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Thanks to other injuries to key players, United are suddenly much more dependent on Harry Maguire than they were earlier in the season. With the first choice duo out, he would have been expected to start the crucial FA Cup semi-final against Brighton on Sunday afternoon at Wembley.
As it is, he is out with a suspension. That is because he picked up a yellow card against Fulham in the quarter-final by dragging Aleksandar Mitrovic to the ground in the first half. Mitrovic would go on to score and also be sent off in that game which ended 3-1 to United in very dramatic circumstances.
That was Maguire’s second yellow card of the FA Cup campaign which amounts to a one-game suspension. Cards are wiped for the semi-finals, meaning any player who was on one card will not miss the final if they get a yellow while winning the semi-final. Existing suspensions are not wiped, though.
Part of the reason why Maguire’s suspension is such an issue for Man Utd is that first-choice central defenders Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane are both out with injuries. Martinez will not be seen again this season, while there’s a chance that could also be the case for Varane.
With those two out, Ten Hag turned to the duo of Victor Lindelof and Maguire in the win against Nottingham Forest and the defeat in the Europa League against Sevilla.
Lindelof is still fit and eligible to play so he will certainly start against Brighton, but Ten Hag may need to play someone like Luke Shaw or Casemiro at centre-back, players much better deployed elsewhere on the pitch.
There are fitness concerns over Shaw anyway, while Scott McTominay is also expected to miss out through injury. The fact he plays at centre-back for Scotland means he would be in the frame to replace Maguire were he fit.