• AFP-JIJI

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Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick almost has a full squad to choose from for Monday’s Premier League clash at Newcastle, after the club had its last two matches postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Only the injured Paul Pogba is unavailable to the interim manager for the Red Devils’ first game in 16 days.

United’s matches against Brentford and Brighton were among the 12 Premier League games called off over the past two weeks due to a wave of coronavirus infections, as Britain battles record numbers.

“The last training session we had eight outfield players and three goalkeepers and then we closed down the training ground in order to break the chain,” Rangnick said Thursday.

“Today was the third day of training this week and we had 25 outfield players. Paul Pogba is still the only one missing out, everyone (else) was on board.”

Rangnick added the vast majority of those who had COVID-19 had little or no symptoms, which allowed them to remain in shape while training from home.

“The development of the last week was extremely positive,” he added. “As far as I could see in training they are all in good shape.

“They did their homework. They all have their schedule to train at home.

“They stick to that schedule and program and from what I saw in training most of them — if not all of them — might be available.”

The fixture congestion caused by a series of postponements has again raised concerns about player welfare.

Rangnick backed the calls of Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola for the reintroduction of five substitutions to ease the burden.

The Premier League was one of the few top European leagues to revert to three changes after five substitutes were allowed for the end of the 2019-20 season, when play resumed after a three-month break caused by the pandemic.

“I think it was the right decision to have more options to change players to save energy for players, especially if they have just recovered from COVID,” Rangnick said.

“The same is true right now. We have a similar situation to 1½ years ago, so I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the same now.

“As far as I know in Europe, England is the only country that only allows three subs. In the other four big leagues in Europe, you can substitute five players.”

He also suggested the League Cup could be scrapped to create extra space in the calendar.

Klopp and Tottenham manager Antonio Conte have requested that their League Cup semi-finals against Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively, be changed from two-legged ties to one-off games.

“England is the only top league that plays two cup competitions. In France they abolished the second one,” said Rangnick. “We are the only country that plays two cup competitions, this is something we could speak about and discuss.”

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