Several Man United players will be jetting off to represent their countries over the next fortnight but Erik ten Hag and Antony still has plenty to work on back at Carrington.
It wasn’t an imperious performance from Manchester United on Saturday but Erik ten Hag can at least go into the international break with a base of optimism with which to build on.
Victor Lindelof was the fourth defender to leave the pitch as a match-winner for United this season, his clinical effort on the hour mark handing them a 1-0 win over Luton Town. It was their second consecutive Premier League win to nil, albeit either side of a 4-3 collapse in Copenhagen.
Lindelof is one of several United players due to head off on international duty, already the third break of such this season. But while he, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and the like jet off to represent their countries, Ten Hag still has plenty to do back home.
One of the biggest concerns for the Dutchman is Antony’s form, given he pushed so hard for United to spend £86million on the winger last summer. He is yet to register a single goal in 12 appearances across all competitions and has been dropped for the last two matches.
Antony was not named in the Brazil squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers and will remain at Carrington. Both he and Ten Hag need those goal contributions to start flowing or the scrutiny over his form will only grow more intense.
Another regular from last season who has had a watching brief in recent weeks is Raphael Varane. He and Lisandro Martinez were nailed on for much of Ten Hag’s debut campaign but amid tactical tweaks and the resurgence of Harry Maguire, the French defender is on the fringes.
Ten Hag has spoken about wanting defenders to be able to naturally play out from the back and in a direct shoot out on the right side of defence, Maguire is simply performing better at the moment. No one would expect Varane to kick up a fuss at the loss of his regular spot but it will be important to address the issue while there is an opening.
Ten Hag might not have wanted this international break to come, given it has followed two wins and an encouraging performance in Copenhagen, despite going down to 10 men. But the release of pressure it will give to those returning from injury is a positive.
Rasmus Hojlund and Christian Eriksen both withdrew from the Denmark squad on Monday after coming off against Luton, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka missed the game through illness. Ten Hag will hope the fortnight break will allow all three to be available at Everton.
Luke Shaw could also return shortly after the international break, having been absent since August due to a muscular issue. He was one of Ten Hag’s most trusted players last season and will be a welcome returnee.
United have gone into the fortnight break on a positive note but even the most optimistic of supporters are not blind to the problems still present. There is still so much room for improvement across the board and with a packed winter schedule ahead, this break is a rare moment for Ten Hag to iron out some more significant issues.