Seven Manchester United players have four months to prove a point ahead of the World Cup – Tyrone Marshall


Next season will provide a challenge that no club manager has any experience of navigating and at the moment the question is just how big an impact a winter World Cup will have on the 2022/23 campaign.

In a standard World Cup year, the tournament would get underway this Friday, but the vote to hand the tournament to Qatar has left us with the unpalatable and ludicrous prospect of a tournament that will begin on November 21, with the final taking place a week before Christmas.

It’s impossible for the tournament not to have an impact on the outcome of domestic football’s biggest prizes, given it has condensed the schedule either side of November and December, while clubs who lose most of their squad will have a balancing act to consider when it comes to fatigue this season.

READ MORE: Why United have changed their approach to squad building

It is something managers will already be planning around now we pretty much know the make-up of the 32 finalists in Qatar, with just two more spots up for grabs.

The presence of a World Cup in November and December means more midweek Premier League rounds than usual, while the six group games in the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League will take place in six successive midweeks.

While they’re unlikely to admit it, managers will be pleased if any of their key players either do not qualify for the tournament or do not make the final cut for their countries, given the rest it will afford them in the middle of the campaign.

Erik ten Hag has plenty on his plate as Manchester United manager this summer, but like his counterparts, he will have one eye on the World Cup.

Planning for it is difficult, however, given there are a lot of United players who have found themselves fighting for their place internationally as a result of poor club form recently.

Fitness permitting there are probably seven United players almost certain to go the tournament, in Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Raphael Varane (France), Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw (England), and Fred (Brazil).

There are probably seven more who might have had expectations of making it not so long ago but now find themselves in need of a big four months if they’re to make the plane. Not all of them will be able to achieve that at Old Trafford.

David de Gea

De Gea has 45 Spain caps and was last week voted as United’s Player of the Season by his club teammates, but having lost his place in his international team in 2020, he’s now lost his place in the squad.

For successive international breaks, Luis Enrique has gone with Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sanchez (Brighton) and David Raya (Brentford) as his three goalkeepers.

This is a selection about more than De Gea’s ability to save the ball and if he’s to stand any chance of getting back into Enrique’s thoughts, he needs to show he can adapt to a new style under Ten Hag.

Dean Henderson

When Henderson made his England debut in November 2020 it must have felt like his time was imminent. He was back from a successful loan spell at Sheffield United, was challenging De Gea at United and saw his replacement at the Blades, Aaron Ramsdale, struggling.

Now Ramsdale is clearly England’s No. 2 and Henderson did not play a minute in the Premier League last season. It’s no exaggeration to say contracting Covid-19 last summer and struggling with the after-effects might have cost him his United career.

If Jordan Pickford and Ramsdale are certain to go to the World Cup, there could still be a vacancy as the third-choice goalkeeper, a role which Nick Pope is currently filling. Henderson needs that loan to Newcastle United and a strong start to the season to have any chance of making the plan.

Alex Telles


The 29-year-old left-back might have been unconvincing for United this season but after a 15-month absence from the Brazil squad he has been back in the picture recently.

Telles was in squads in January, March and June and started two of Brazil’s final three World Cup qualifiers. He has been an unused substitute in their friendly wins against South Korea and Japan in the past week.

At the moment his place in the Selecao’s World Cup squad must still be in the balance and if Ten Hag prefers Luke Shaw at the start of the season, Telles might only have the Europa League in which to make an impression.

Donny van de Beek

Two years ago Van de Beek was one of the next stars of Dutch football, but he’s made no impact at United since a £ 35million move from Ajax and has now been overlooked by Louis van Gaal for the past year.

An injury forced him out of Euro 2020 but he’s failed to fight his way back into the squad and Van Gaal has made it clear that will not change until he’s playing regularly at club level.

His loan spell at Everton was mixed at best and while there are vacancies in the United midfield, Van de Beek has to hope a reunion with Ten Hag is just what he – and United – need.

Jadon Sancho

When United spent £ 73million on Sancho last summer it would have been unthinkable that 12 months down the line he would be England’s past, rather than its present.

His first season at Old Trafford was a very slow burn and as a result, he’s been overlooked for three successive England squads. At 22 his time will come again, but will it be quickly enough to be a star of the show in Qatar?

Sancho should benefit from Ten Hag’s coaching and intricate tactical instructions and he is at least assured of his place in the United side to make an impact.

Marcus Rashford

The same can not be said of Rashford, whose last act for England at the moment is missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout against Italy last July.

That tournament was frustrating for Rashford and since shoulder surgery, he’s not been able to win his place back in Gareth Southgate’s squad. His form for United last season was once again disappointing.

Missing the June internationals might have been the break that the 24-year-old needed, but he needs to hit the ground running next season.

Anthony Martial

In Euro 2016 Martial looked like one of the bright young hopes for French football, but his international career has so far produced just two goals in 30 caps and, like his club career, it has stalled.

He was in the squad as recently as October but was an unused substitute as France won the Nations League finals in that break. He’s since been left out of the last three squads.

His disappointing loan spell at Sevilla failed to provide the spark plug to his career and he surely needs to leave United if he’s to have any chance of making the World Cup.

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