Man United’s defining week in top four battle with three games in just SIX days

Manchester United have been this season’s knockout kings – unbeaten in their last 19 cup ties in three different competitions with the Carabao trophy already in the locker.

But it’s the Premier League that will fully focus Erik ten Hag’s mind on the resumption of club football following the international break.

Champions League qualification remains a huge priority for United having missed out on Europe’s elite competition in four of the last five seasons and despite their run in the Europa League, their best chance of a return remains a top-four finish.

United currently sit third but only three points ahead of Newcastle who are fifth. It makes Sunday’s trip to St James’ Park hugely important and only the start of what could be a pivotal week for the club.

The following Wednesday, in-form Brentford arrive at Old Trafford with Everton next only three days later.

The stakes for the Newcastle game couldn’t be higher and Eddie Howe has key individuals in better form now than when they met in the EFL Cup final at Wembley – £60million striker Alexander Isak being a prime example – while the Toon won’t have to rely on third-choice ‘keeper Loris Karius again.

And even if United fans expect maximum points from home games against Brentford and Everton, Ten Hag will be mindful of being held 0-0 by Southampton in their league outing at Old Trafford.

They were also thumped 4-0 by Thomas Frank’s side earlier in the season and to add to the intrigue, United’s squad is seriously creaking for the first time under their Dutch manager.

Midfield general Casemiro is suspended for all three league matches after his red card against the Saints.

Christian Eriksen hasn’t played since January because of an ankle injury while Casemiro’s natural replacement Marcel Sabitzer was worryingly withdrawn from Austria’s Euro qualifier against Azerbaijan and did not feature in the clash with Estonia on Monday.

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