Charlie Savage was one of the stars of pre-season for Manchester United back in July, impressing on pre-season tour. Making the step up for real has not been so straightforward, with Savage down the queue of midfield options. Savage has not yet made a matchday squad for the first team, instead playing five matches and scoring once for the under-21s. On Monday he was back training with Manchester United’s first team, getting the chance to impress manager Erik ten Hag and his coaching staff. Savage shone in pre-season along with young teammate Zidane Iqbal. The Iraq international has been slightly ahead in the first team queue. While yet to make an appearance this season, Iqbal made the bench last week for the Europa League fixture with Real Sociedad, while Savage did not.
Both 19-year-olds were in training ahead of Thursday’s fixture with Sheriff Tiraspol, and Savage will hope to get the nod to travel with the squad. This may be more tricky with less rotation expected due to United’s need to clinch a win after an opening defeat, and this coming Sunday’s match against Leeds being called off. United have an under-21 game on Friday night against West Ham, which is going ahead at Altrincham’s home stadium. Savage could be involved in this game if he does not make the squad for the Sheriff Tiraspol match. Sheriff’s base is in Transnistria, a breakaway region not recognised internationally, and, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UEFA made the decision that matches in their competitions should not be staged there.
After seeing Sunday’s scheduled trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace postponed, Manchester United will be determined to get back on track when they face Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League on Thursday evening. The trip to Moldova — which will mark the first-ever meeting between the two clubs — presents United with the opportunity to try and get their first point[s] on the board in Group E, after being beaten 1-0 by Real Sociedad in their opening fixture last week. Manager Erik ten Hag, following the 3-1 win over Arsenal four days earlier, made the decision to rotate his pack for the visit of the Spanish outfit to Old Trafford, making six changes. It was a decision that came as no great surprise. United are overwhelming favourites to escape the clutches of Group E as group winners and they have more than enough strength in depth to ensure they get the job done.
But their performance against Sociedad, perhaps impacted by the sombre mood being felt inside Old Trafford following the announcement of the Queen’s death just 90 minutes before kick-off, was a reminder that they won’t have everything their own way. The other three clubs in their group — Sociedad, Sheriff and Omonia Nicosia — will treat their respective meetings with United as their cup finals. It is why United, in a season where they cannot afford to turn their nose up at the Europa League — given it’s a chance to end their trophy drought — can leave nothing to chance against Sheriff, who have the ability to leave European football’s most powerful clubs crestfallen. Just ask Real Madrid.
The postponement of the clash with Palace means that United, following confirmation of Sunday’s meeting with Leeds United also being called off, will now go exactly a month without playing a Premier League fixture, with the international break also on the horizon. Certain members of the squad, such as Marcus Rashford, now risk going a full month without featuring if left out against Sheriff, after he was rested against Sociedad. The same, too, could be said for Scott McTominay. He was also given a breather against Sociedad, paving the way for Casemiro to earn his first start in United colours since arriving from Real Madrid last month. The Brazilian did not have the most memorable of full debuts, struggling to get into any sort of rhythm, but it was clear that he needs more minutes on the pitch, operating alongside players that will make up Ten Hag’s strongest starting line-up.
He deserves time to adjust to United’s way of playing and develop an understanding of how those around him operate. The only way Casemiro can develop that understanding is by playing. McTominay, to his credit, has raised his game since the former Real Madrid man arrived at Old Trafford, vindicating Ten Hag’s decision to keep him in the side. However, there is a general feeling that Casemiro, eventually, will replace McTominay and slot into the defensive-midfield berth that everyone automatically expected him to fill following his recent arrival. Once that changing of the guard takes place, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes should play ahead of him in the midfield trio. Eriksen and Fernandes have each nailed down their places in Ten Hag’s strongest line-up in recent weeks, each producing excellent performances. Fernandes is the set No.10 at United while Eriksen has thrived as the ‘shuttle’ to link the two roles.
Against Sociedad, Casemiro lined-up in midfield with Eriksen and Fred, but with the latter, surprisingly, operating as the most advanced midfielder. It was a decision that backfired for Ten Hag. Therefore, recalling Fernandes to the fold, and teaming him up with Casemiro and Eriksen, would give Ten Hag the opportunity to test out what is, ultimately, expected to become his first choice midfield. Against Sheriff, with respect, it feels like the appropriate moment to test the water, as it is a fixture that United are expected to win. You could have argued that the Leeds game, originally scheduled for three days later, was of greater significance and that Ten Hag couldn’t afford to take too many risks with his star players. However, the Europa League, coupled with the upcoming postponement, presents United with an opportunity to try and signal their trophy intentions. Play it right and it could be a win-win for everyone concerned.