October starts with Erik ten Hag’s litmus test, but a fresh and in-form Jadon Sancho helps

See you in October, Manchester United. Likewise, Jadon Sancho.

Just four hours after his England omission, Sancho opened the scoring for United in their Europa League win at Sheriff on Thursday night.

Talk about timing.

You can file that under the quickest of Are You Watching Gareth Southgate? illustrations possible, while – beyond Cristiano Ronaldo opening his account for the season from the penalty spot – it was the only other moment of note from a game where United rarely needed to leave second gear.

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Nevertheless, a 2-0 win was an ideal response to their Real Sociedad defeat last week, and with this weekend’s fixture against Leeds United postponed Erik ten Hag now has two-and-a-half weeks to prepare for Manchester City away – the ultimate litmus test that kickstarts a manic month of nine matches.

Two a week, in fact, until the World Cup break in mid-November.

Man Utd’s upcoming fixtures

Premier League unless stated:

  • Sun 2 Oct: Manchester City (a)
  • Thu 6 Oct: Omonia Nicosia (a) – Europa League
  • Sun 9 Oct: Everton (a)
  • Thu 13 Oct: Omonia Nicosia (h) – Europa League
  • Sun 16 Oct: Newcastle (h)
  • Wed 19 Oct: Tottenham (h)
  • Sat 22 Oct: Chelsea (a)
  • Thu 27 Oct: Sheriff (h) – Europa League
  • Sun 30 Oct: West Ham (h)
  • Thu 3 Nov: Real Sociedad (a) – Europa League
  • Sun 6 Nov: Aston Villa (a)
  • Thu 10 Nov: Aston Villa (h) – EFL Cup
  • Sun 13 Nov: Fulham (a)

And if there are to be bright sides to oversights, Ten Hag can at least work with Sancho uninterrupted for the fortnight to come, perhaps channel any irritation the 22-year-old possesses, and urge him not only to make Southgate think otherwise next time – when he names his World Cup squad – but make City pay as well, the club that let him leave for Borussia Dortmund five years ago.

“It’s not up to me, it’s the manager of England, I cannot be in his seat, I don’t want to do it,” Ten Hag said afterwards.

Alluding to Marcus Rashford – who did not make the trip Moldova – missing out on the England squad as well, Ten Hag added: “They are progressing, they are starting the season well, they will progress even more, I am convinced of that.”

Sancho, meanwhile, cut a downcast figure despite his exploits on the night, telling BT Sport: “Obviously it is disappointing not to get the call-up. But I have to keep working hard, and hopefully I do get the call-up for the World Cup. I have to focus on myself and carry on working hard.”

Make that your fuel, Ten Hag should tell them, and though Southgate alluded to picking players on form “over a long period”, with 13 matches remaining before the World Cup arrives, both Sancho and Rashford have plenty of time to turn this solid start to the campaign into the lengthier version of form that the England boss evidently craves.

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Having so long to wait for their next match should be viewed positively, too. Former Manchester United pair Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves may have bristled in the studio when asked if the omissions could be a blessing in disguise, but now Sancho and Rashford can watch the Nations League from home and plot their route to Qatar more carefully, with fresher legs than their rivals to boot.

And all the while, Ten Hag may well enjoy a smile to himself. This past week has shown us the schedule is only going to get more congested, but two of his standout players so far are staying with him at Carrington. That could stand them in good stead.

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