There has been a real sense of consistency for Manchester United in the last few weeks. They have won five of their last six matches, and Erik ten Hag has found a favoured starting line-up, though it has had to be adapted amid a recent striker shortage.
In two weeks’ time, United will return to action against Man City and there is already a relatively straightforward squad selection to make should his stars return from international duty unscathed.
It is refreshing that United seem to have already found a system and the right personnel so early on in the season, but the obvious downside is that this won’t be able to last much longer given the packed fixture schedule that awaits them on their return.
United will play nine matches next month, meaning two outings a week, with a four-day gap between games being the longest time off they will get during that period. Ten Hag might be well aware of his preferred line-up, but he won’t be able to use it every time, so those on the periphery will have a wider role to play.
Facundo Pellistri could be one of those to benefit, with the packed fixture schedule potentially offering him a lifeline two years after he signed for the club.
The 20-year-old has yet to make a competitive senior appearance since he signed from Penarol for £9million on deadline day back in 2020, as United accelerated plans to sign him following their failure to go and get Jadon Sancho.
A year later, though, they would get their man, and Pellistri has fallen victim to United’s lack of long-term planning, so much so that they went and bought another right winger this summer too. Antony arrived from Ajax for £85m, taking their spending to £186m on four right wingers in the space of just two years.
There can be no ignoring the fact that both Pellistri and fellow deadline day recruit Amad have very unclear futures at United, and the Uruguayan would have left on loan this summer too, if not for an ankle injury sustained in the penultimate pre-season outing against Atletico Madrid.
Pellistri finished the summer with 59 minutes of football under his belt, but remarkably, it is he who remains at the club while fellow forward Amad has been loaned out to Sunderland and Tahith Chong has been sold to Birmingham.
Ten Hag prefers to have a left-footed forward playing on the right wing, one who compliments their attacking approach via an inverted role, just as all of their left wingers do with their preference to cut inside onto a dominant right foot.
It means that, due to an unfortunate injury, Pellistri is now the only other left-footed attacker in the senior squad after Antony, and although not initially part of the plans this season, he might well be given a lifeline in the weeks that lie ahead.
While it hasn’t worked out for him in a United shirt so far, it speaks volumes that the youngster is still such an important figure for Uruguay, and looks set to represent them at the World Cup this winter.
Pellistri has already made six senior international appearances since making his debut back in January and has been called up once again for the imminent international break, a clear endorsement of his talents, even if he is yet to replicate them in a red shirt.
The 20-year-old was back in training at Carrington this week and if he remains injury free, he could well be involved again when he returns from South America, given he is an obvious replacement for Antony in the Europa League matches against Omonia Nicosia.
United’s resurgent run of form has come thanks to an established side of players Ten Hag feels he can trust, but it will take a real squad effort in order to keep it going once the packed fixture schedule arrives.
They decided they didn’t need him this summer, but now United might need to change their mind on Pellistri.