Manchester United’s plans for a mid-pre-season break were almost thrown into nightmarish disarray yesterday when they had to call off a friendly between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and Stoke City at the last minute.
United had already played one behind-closed-doors eleven-a-side game between the first team squad as they ramp up their preparations for Project Restart. The Premier League is due to restart on 17 June, but United’s first game back in competitive action is not until 19 June, when they visit Tottenham Hotspur.
The game would have featured both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, both of whom underwent surgery a few weeks for the cessation of the Premier League due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pogba’s ankle injury has heeled and Rashford is ready for first-team action after suffering a fractured back.
However, with the game imminent and with players from both sides at the Carrington training complex, Stoke’s boss Michael O’Neill was informed that he had tested for coronavirus. As a result he had to begin self-isolation for seven days, and the rest of the squad had to leave.
According to reports, there had not at that point been any contact between United’s players and Stoke’s squad, and there had been no exposure between the two sets of players via any shared communal areas. It is therefore unlikely if not impossible that any of United’s playing staff will have been infected by O’Neill.
United will be hoping to get some more friendlies under their belt before the league restarts, because they are within touching distance of securing a Champions League spot under their own steam.
They are currently in fifth place, which might ultimately count as fourth place given Manchester City’s impending Champions League ban, but they are appealing the decision and it may yet be overturned or suspended.