When Manchester United face RB Leipzig in Germany on Tuesday night, it will be do-or-die for their Champions League hopes.
If the Red Devils avoid defeat at the Red Bull Arena, then a spot in the last 16 of the European Cup is theirs.
Defeat against a side who they have already defeated 5-0 in the group stage, but whom, lest we forget, were semi-finalists last season, and it will be a return to the Europa League for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
Not only that, but defeat will ramp up the pressure and the questions that surround the Norwegian in his role at Old Trafford.
However, there are various other issues that will be affected by what occurs in Leipzig on Tuesday night.
Front and centre in that respect will be the futures of two players, one on either side – and neither of whom are expected to feature.
RBL will definitely be without their much-coveted French international Dayot Upamecano.
The highly-rated centre-back was booked during the end-to-end encounter with Istanbul Basaksehir this week and must therefore serve a suspension.
At the opposite end is Dean Henderson, set to once more be backing up David de Gea from the United bench – assuming the Spaniard is ready to return.
In Upamecano’s case, his future is certain.
He will be sold by Leipzig in 2021, the question is just whether he departs next summer – as planned – for the £38million release clause in his contract or someone moves to take him from the eastern upstarts before then.
Certainly, the 22-year-old has plenty of suitors; a veritable who’s who of Europe’s elite have sent scouts to watch him in the past 18 months and have him on their defensive shortlists to one degree or another.
In Germany it’s an open secret that Bayern would like him next July. Paris Saint-Germain want him too, while Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is a fan also.
But others, notably Premier League champions Liverpool – potentially even United too – have a more immediate need.
Anfield staff have done plenty of due diligence and with both Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk potentially set to miss the remainder of the season, they could well use there relationship with RBL counterparts to get ahead of the competition, paying a small premium to get the deal done in January – as they did when nabbing Naby Keita.
For their part, so long as RBL remain in Bundesliga title contention, they won’t want him going anywhere.
But if United progress on Tuesday and Leipzig drop into Europe’s secondary competition, then they may well elect not to stand in Upamecano’s way if an offer of a little extra cash in their pocket, plus Champions League football in the second half of the season for the player, is on offer.
If it’s just a matter of time with Upamecano, then there is far less clarity where Henderson is concerned.
After starring in each of the last two seasons on loan at Sheffield United, he returned to Old Trafford to challenge De Gea.
But the Spaniard, little more than 15 months into a four-year, £350k-a-week contract, remains Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s undisputed first-choice.
Henderson signed his own big-money deal in August, but since then the 23 year-old has made just four starts – two in the EFL Cup and one in the Premier League, this past weekend, when De Gea was ruled out due to injury.
He has aspirations of being United and England No.1, but he’s well aware that without the former, the latter won’t happen.
With the Euros around the corner next summer, Gareth Southgate has been clear that he needs regular action to be in the Three Lions squad; as it stands he’s No.3, behind Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford, but there are challengers queueing up behind him.
He won’t get minutes in the Premier League nor the Champions League knockout stages if United get there, barring more injury issues with De Gea. And even when those opportunities do come, De Gea promptly returns when available.
So, the suggestion has been that Henderson could seek a temporary deal in January to get game time and ensure his place with England next summer; Celtic has been mooted as a potential destination, Leeds United another.
However, if United fall into the Europa League, then that opens up an avenue for potentially nine additional games in the second half of the season.
Throw in the League Cup and FA Cup – he is expected to play in both – and there are potentially 19 matches on offer for Henderson if United stumble in Leipzig.
In purely selfish terms, it would be best for Henderson if that happens; more opportunities at United, more immediately, would then be heading his way.
But if United get the job done, then it will be a different transfer pathway that may well open up ahead of the January window.
The same can be said of RBL and Upamecano also. Tuesday night’s result will both open up and close options on all sides.
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