As the Omicron variant wreaks havoc on the football calendar, everything remains in flux.
The weekend saw just four of the scheduled 10 fixtures take place due to squads being hit by several Covid-19 cases, with a Manchester United game falling victim for a second time — first it was a trip to Brentford and then Saturday’s visit of Brighton.
More fixtures could yet succumb and reports suggest that the Premier League may scrap the festive fixtures scheduled between December 28-30 to ease the stress on clubs.
So much is up in the air that it’s hard to look too far forward at all but, in the best-case scenario, United would be back in action on December 27 when they travel North to face Newcastle.
Ralf Rangnick only had seven players available for Saturday’s postponed match but, with any luck, in a week’s time more of his squad will be able to play.
Covid cases aside, the German could actually have more players available to him for the match than he did against Norwich last time out, as a couple of long-term absentees are now fit again.
The first is centre-back Raphael Varane, who hasn’t played since he suffered a hamstring injury in the 2-2 draw with Atalanta in early November.
Providing there are no setbacks, the cancelled games mean Varane would have had over two weeks of training to get his fitness back up ahead of a return.
The Frenchman will likely slot in alongside Harry Maguire in the back-line, replacing Victor Lindelof. Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles and David de Gea have done nothing to warrant losing their places and will likely make up the rest of the back five.
Likewise, Fred and Scott McTominay are unlikely to be dislodged from their position as Rangnick’s preferred midfield partnership, at least until any possible additions arrive in January.
The wide positions become a little more interesting, however, as Mason Greenwood has been pushing for a start and could come in on the right, while Bruno Fernandes could be dropped due to his underwhelming displays of late.
Marcus Rashford may be moved to the left to replace the Portuguese, which would leave a slot open alongside Cristiano Ronaldo upfront for United’s other returning player.
Edinson Cavani also hasn’t played since the trip to Bergamo due to a tendon issue but could work excellently in Rangnick’s front two.
Though approaching 35, the veteran striker remains a relentless presser and will charge down defenders all day long, while his physicality and excellent link-up play would make him a great foil for Ronaldo.
It seems that Cavani would suit Rangnick’s system perfectly and it would certainly be interesting to him play there.
Potential United team vs Newcastle: De Gea; Dalot, Varane, Maguire, Telles; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Rashford; Cavani, Ronaldo.