Erik ten Hag left Harry Maguire sweating on his place for Saturday’s trip to Southampton by warning him that being Manchester United captain does not guarantee him game-time.
Maguire was dropped for Monday’s rousing 2-1 win over rivals Liverpool, with Raphael Varane preferred alongside £55million summer signing Lisandro Martinez.
The 29-year-old accepts that he is fighting for his future at Old Trafford, with Ten Hag suggesting rotating his defenders will become a theme this season.
That Maguire is club captain will not enter Ten Hag’s thinking when deliberating team selection ahead of Saturday’s trip to the south coast.
‘I don’t think it means that when you are captain you are established to play always, especially when you also have Varane in your squad,’ Ten Hag said of Maguire.
‘There is competition, and we need that. Varane’s stature is immense. When the team needed him, he was there.
‘His profile, stature and what he won in the past shows he can really contribute. We have so many games and we can see from game to game what we need. There are many options.’
Ten Hag has stopped short of pondering a change in captain after Bruno Fernandes took the armband on Monday. Maguire may have a battle on his hands to regain a spot in Ten Hag’s preferred starting XI before worrying about a potential leadership change.
‘I am not looking so far,’ Ten Hag added. ‘We have a leadership group and Harry is one of them, Bruno is one of them. Bruno did quite well as captain. He led by example and he brings so much energy to the team in and out of possession.’
Cristiano Ronaldo remains open to a move to a Champions League club but is available for selection at St Mary’s on Saturday.
New £70m central midfielder Casemiro trained with the United squad this week after completing a move from Real Madrid and is in contention to feature on Saturday.
‘Casemiro is the cement between the stones, he is a leader,’ Ten Hag said.
‘He is a very good strategist, he can play a ball and he wins challenges.
‘He brings a lot into a game and he will help us.’