On more than one occasion this season, Erik ten Hag has lamented the fact that he has never been able to field his strongest Manchester United team. But that will likely change this week, depending on Marcus Rashford’s availability following crunch talks over last week’s Belfast saga at Carrington on Monday.
In September, Ten Hag refused to blame United’s underwhelming results at the start of his second campaign on the club’s relentless injury problems.
However, he noted that they had undoubtedly contributed to his inability to field his strongest side since becoming manager at Old Trafford in the summer of 2022.
He said: “One thing is true. From the start of last season, I don’t think I ever started with, in my opinion, the best starting XI. There were always injuries.”
Ten Hag’s injury list has significantly cut in recent weeks, though, meaning the pressure for results will only increase.
That said, the Dutchman will welcome the boosts, and he could finally put out his first-choice starting line-up in United’s Premier League trip to Wolves on Thursday.
After Sunday’s FA Cup triumph against Newport County, Ten Hag confirmed that Andre Onana would be back in contention at Molineux after Cameroon’s Africa Cup of Nations elimination.
“Andre Onana will be back for Thursday,” Ten Hag explained after United’s 4-2 fourth-round win at Rodney Parade in South Wales.
“Maybe, for the first time as long as I was manager, I can pick a team from the squad that is probably the strongest here.”
Ten Hag fielded what he likely considers his strongest team, barring two absentees, against Newport, knowing the FA Cup is United’s final chance for silverware this term.
Altay Bayindir made his Red Devils debut in place of Onana, who had been ever-present before the clash against the League Two outfit.
Ten Hag reacted: “I think it was a composed debut [by Bayindir]. Some good saves, so very composed. I think, overall, he can be happy. I was pleased with his performance.”
Antony also filled in for Rashford alongside Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund in United’s front three, registering his first goal and assist of the campaign.
Ten Hag claimed Rashford had reported ill and missed training on Friday, just hours after he was allegedly spotted in a Belfast nightclub. The United boss confirmed he is also dealing with an ‘internal matter’.
However, if the 26-year-old is available midweek and no new issues arise after the Newport win, his and Onana’s inclusions would offer what Ten Hag will view as his best team.