Lisandro Martinez braced for fight to recover Man Utd starting spot

Manchester United defender Lisandro Martinez is embracing the competition for places as he attempts to force his way back into Erik ten Hag’s starting XI.

Martinez started all of United’s first 14 Premier League games of the season prior to the World Cup break. Having gone all the way to the World Cup final with Argentina, becoming just the fifth player to get his hands on the trophy while on the books at Old Trafford, he was granted extra time off to rest and recover when club football resumed in late December.

The 24-year-old, who United agreed to pay up to £57m for, was absent from the matchday squad, against Burnley in the Carabao Cup – a game played only three days after the World Cup final – as well as missing Premier League wins over Nottingham Forest and Wolves.

Martinez was back when United faced Bournemouth on Tuesday night, given a returning hero’s welcome when he was reintroduced to the Old Trafford crowd with his World Cup medal, and played the final few minutes off the bench. He stayed on the bench for Friday’s FA Cup tie against Everton and got a few more minutes under his belt.

Luke Shaw has recently filled in at centre-back, while it was Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire who got the nod against Bournemouth. The fit-again Raphael Varane is also a key player.

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“I like when there’s competition for places, I think it’s a positive,” Martinez told Sky Sports, seemingly not unduly worried about his current status.

“The vibe and the atmosphere in the dressing room is really positive and I’m proud we’re on this good run. It shows we are on the right road and we are making progress.

“At the start of the season, we didn’t have the best of couple of games, but we managed to turn things around and that makes you stronger. I think now, within the group, there’s a different kind of energy and atmosphere. Training is even more lively than it’s ever been. We can’t drop our guard, but three wins and three clean sheets is something to build on.”

United are next in action on Tuesday night when Charlton visit Old Trafford in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup, a game that could be the perfect opportunity for Martinez to get his first start since the first half of November.