Having recognised the need to reprofile a squad top heavy on attacking talent, the 44-year-old was ready to allow some of the players currently at his disposal to leave before this month’s deadline.
But with United forced to rearrange four of their matches over the Christmas and New Year period due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Heckingbottom is wary of leaving his team exposed at a critical stage of the campaign should injury, illness or suspension strike during the second half of the season.
And that has prompted coaching staff to consider keeping some of those players who might otherwise have departed in order to guard against potential selection problems in the future.
Lys Mousset and Oliver Burke, who interests Blackburn Rovers, are among those likely to have been deemed surplus to requirements following Heckingbottom’s review of the options he inherited from his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic two months ago.
The Serb also expressed concerns about imbalances among United’s first team before leaving his position following an internal strategic review, disappointing results and series of disagreements with the club’s board of directors.
Despite acknowledging the issue must be rectified in order to enhance United’s promotion prospects, Heckingbottom also recognises the increasingly congested fixture calendar will place even greater stress on a group which appears short of defensive cover following his decision to revert to a back three.
With the on-loan Ben Davies recently being declared unavailable for selection for personal reasons, Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack Robinson were the only tried and tested centre-halves at United’s disposal as they began preparing for Sunday’s FA Cup third round tie at Wolverhampton Wanderers although wing-back Enda Stevens has performed there in the past.
United are 13th in the table, despite not contesting a match since December 20th’s win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. With Queens Park Rangers, Hull City, Middlesbrough and Preston North End all being granted postponements by the English Football League, the meeting with Luton Town on January 22nd will be their first outing at home for nearly two months.