Manchester United’s troubles show no sign of abating, as winger Antony’s immediate return to the club has been delayed due to assault accusations.
This setback compounds the woes for United’s manager, who is already grappling with a lengthy injury list. Losing a key player to an assault allegation is far from what the club needed at this juncture.
Understandably, both the club and the manager find themselves in a difficult position. Selecting Antony in light of the allegations would invite a significant backlash from the media and fans alike. As a result, they are left with little choice but to explore other options.
On paper, apart from Antony, Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri are the only recognized right-wingers in the squad. However, Diallo is sidelined with an injury and is expected to miss a substantial portion of the 2023/24 season, possibly not returning until February or March.
With Antony’s absence looming for several upcoming matches, Ten Hag may turn to the 21-year-old Uruguayan, Facundo Pellistri, as a potential solution. During a March interview with MUTV, Ten Hag expressed his belief that Pellistri deserved first-team minutes, and now, with United facing a shortage of wing power, Pellistri has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a key player in the starting lineup.
Another young prospect, Amad Diallo, could provide competition upon his recovery from injury, although his return is still a considerable way off after undergoing knee surgery.
While Jadon Sancho has the versatility to play on the right flank, his relationship with the manager has soured following a post on social media. If the discord persists, it could lead to alternatives such as Bruno Fernandes or Mason Mount taking up the right-wing role.
Both Fernandes and Mount have experience playing as wingers at various points in their careers. Fernandes, in particular, made a significant impact in the position last season, showcasing his creativity on the wings. While he excels in central midfield, Ten Hag might opt for a midfield lineup featuring Sofyan Amrabat and Casemiro as holding midfielders, with Christian Eriksen as the No. 10 and Fernandes operating on the wing.
Mount, upon his return from injury after the international break, could provide cover for either Eriksen or Fernandes in this makeshift formation. Additionally, Kobbie Mainoo is expected to return later in the month, potentially offering cover for Casemiro and Amrabat.
Alternatively, Alejandro Garnacho and Marcus Rashford could be considered for the right-wing role. Garnacho nearly secured a victory against Arsenal when he came off the bench and had his late goal ruled out. Although he played on the right-wing at times last season, his effectiveness on the left may prompt Ten Hag to explore other options.
Marcus Rashford is another viable candidate for the right flank, though he tends to shine more when cutting in from the left.
Manchester United’s upcoming fixtures are far from forgiving. They face three challenging UEFA Champions League matches, including a clash with Bayern Munich. Additionally, a high-stakes encounter with Manchester City at Old Trafford looms large. With Antony expected to miss these crucial fixtures, Ten Hag and his team must swiftly adapt to fill the void.
The next test for Manchester United arrives on September 16th when they face Brighton and Hove Albion, and it will serve as a litmus test of how they plan to navigate this trying period without Antony.