When Manchester United took a two goal lead against Sevilla at Old Trafford in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final, all looked rosy in Erik ten Hag’s garden.
However, by the end of the 90 minutes United had seen their lead evaporate, losing their centre-back pairing in the process.
Raphael Varane limped off at half time with an ankle injury and Lisandro Martinez was carried off the pitch before Sevilla’s decisive equalizer, with a broken metatarsal.
Martinez’ injury has ruled him out for the rest of the campaign, with Varane given only a slim chance of featuring before the end of the season.
Harry Maguire partnered Victor Lindelöf for the second leg but endured a horrendous night in Seville which saw United tumble out of Europe with a whimper.
Maguire was then suspended for United’s FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Erik ten Hag opted to play Luke Shaw next to Lindelöf.
The pair performed admirably, keeping out a talented Brighton side for 120 mins before Lindelöf underlined his strong showing by slamming home the winning spot kick in the shootout.
The pair kept their place for the draw at Tottenham on Thursday and today’s win against Aston Villa, which included another clean sheet. It looks as though they will be Ten Hag’s pairing for the run-in.
As reported by Laurie Whitwell in The Athletic, the pairing have shown their capabilities but will seek help from their midfield in the coming weeks to ensure United finish the season strongly.
Ten Hag wasn’t happy with the ease in which is midfield gave up possession in the draw at Spurs, which invited pressure and saw United blow a two goal lead once more.
“Too often giving the ball away means they have more part in the game, then they get more tested. That was definitely the case, then it got more difficult all over,” said Ten Hag.
Despite the quality of the duo, it’s still a patched up back line which additionally loses Shaw’s expertise at left-back.
The experience of Casemiro, Fernandes and Christian Eriksen will be vital in United controlling games from now until the end of the season, to ensure a top four finish.
Then comes the FA Cup final against a rampant Manchester City. Should Varane not recover in time for the showpiece occasion, it’s expected Lindelöf and Shaw will be tasked with keeping Erling Haaland at bay.
United fans will draw hope from the pair’s performance in the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, which saw the unlikely duo keep Haaland and co. quiet enough to secure a 2-1 win on the day.