Fears are now growing at Manchester United that Raphael Varane will join Lisandro Martinez on the sidelines for the rest of the campaign.
Varane was taken off at half-time during United’s Europa League game with Sevilla at Old Trafford 10 days ago after inflicting more damage to an ankle that has been causing him problems recently.
And the defender will once again be missing when they face Brighton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Varane has had scans on his ankle after the swelling finally started to subside – and the verdict was that he could be out for six weeks.
That would rule him out of United’s last eight Premier League matches and force Ten Hag to put his faith in Harry Maguire and Lindelof to help get his team over the line in their quest for a top-four finish.
United’s medical staff are hopeful that Varane could still recover in time for the FA Cup Final – if United beat Brighton.
But with Martinez carried off against Sevilla with a broken metatarsal that has seen him undergo surgery, it means Erik ten Hag is without both of his first-choice centre-backs.
Maguire and Lindelof were part of a disappointing second-half display as United crashed out of Europe with a 3-0 defeat in Seville on Thursday.
And with the United skipper now suspended for the match at Wembley, it is likely that Luke Shaw will be asked to partner Lindelof.
Ten Hag views Varane’s combination with Martinez as the best he has at the club. The 29-year-old has shown some superb form this campaign.
But he has been plagued by injuries since he arrived from Real Madrid two seasons ago. He suffered an ankle problem in the run-up to the World Cup, where he helped France reach the final before they were beaten by Argentina.
Speaking ahead of the game with the Seagulls, Ten Hag admitted that some within his squad were playing for their future at United. “I think we are always playing for our futures, as professional players. Every game is a test, every season is a test and you have to earn the right to wear the shirt,” he explained.
“But also for me as a manager. In that matter, we are in the same boat, but I think we make huge progress. We have the experience now but we have still a way to go. So we have to step up and the good thing is Sunday is the next opportunity. It is a great opportunity, it is the semi-final of the FA Cup.