Erik ten Hag backs Manchester United squad to cope with injury crisis
Erik ten Hag is confident absentee-hit Manchester United will have the depth and energy to cope with the relentless run-in as they head to a Nottingham Forest side in “survival mode”.
There is no let-up in a frantic first season for the Dutchman, who is juggling a top-four quest with their attempt to follow their Carabao Cup triumph with Europa League and FA Cup glory.
United head to relegation-threatened Forest in the Premier League on Sunday before turning their attention to cup matters as this manic period continues.
The Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla is poised at 2-2 ahead of Thursday’s second leg in Spain, which is followed next Sunday by the FA Cup semi-final against Brighton at Wembley.
“We have depth in the squad,” Ten Hag said as the number of absentees grows at a vital stage of the campaign.
“We have to use the squad – that’s also what we did (on Thursday).
“In the meantime, you have to win games, so also you need a tactical approach to win the games.
“But I think we have good players and when we have problems – so injuries, suspensions – we have depth in the squad.”
Asked about the impact of opponents having played fewer games at this stage than United, Ten Hag said: “Yes (I need to think about energy levels), but I see also an advantage.
“We had more games so we have more routines, so we like to play and that will give the energy.
“I think many, many advantages and we want to go for silverware. That has to give energy.
“We want to go to make this season a success. That has to give energy.”
Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay could return to action on Sunday, but Lisandro Martinez – out for the rest of the season after fracturing a metatarsal bone in his foot – and Raphael Varane are to miss out after picking up injuries against Sevilla.
The defensive duo join the likes of Marcus Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho and Donny van de Beek on the sidelines as United look to beat Forest for the fourth time this term.
Steve Cooper’s promoted side lost the reverse league fixture 3-0 at Old Trafford in December, before Ten Hag’s team won 3-0 on the banks of the Trent and 2-0 at home in their Carabao Cup semi-final tie.
“I know what place they are and we know what we can expect on Sunday,” the Dutchman said of Forest, who enter the weekend 18th in the standings.
“They are in a survival mode and they will run for their lives, so we have to be ready for that game.”
Among those pushing to start at the City Ground is Anthony Martial, who led the line with aplomb on Thursday as the regularly injured forward made his first start in three months.
Two of the 27-year-old’s seven goals have come against Forest this season and Ten Hag is trying to balance the benefit of his attacking qualities with keeping him fit.
“Maybe he can (play 90 minutes) but it’s a risk,” the United boss said, having withdrawn him after 62 minutes against former club Sevilla.
“We can’t take that risk in this moment because we don’t have so many options in the frontline with Rashford injured, with Garnacho injured.
“We don’t have so many options there, so we have to be careful and also in (an) individual prospect, we know when there’s coming a lot of load he gets injured.
“So, we have to build it and especially when the games are coming quick after each other, the recovery time is less.
“We have to take that also in mind. We have to manage that very good and very careful.”
Ten Hag had high hopes for Martial this season, playing him throughout pre-season.
But Thursday’s appearance against Sevilla was only his 18th of an injury-hit campaign, making him hard to rely on for United this term.
“For me he’s the best as a centre-forward, but I think he can play in more positions: he can play as a 10 and wide positions as well,” Ten Hag said.
“Look, it’s difficult to say because the history shows different, but I want him to be (a big part next season) because I think he’s a great player.
“He has definitely the qualities to play top football and when he’s fit our team play better.”
Asked if Martial will definitely be at United still next season, Ten Hag said: “From my point of view, yeah.”