Before hosting Liverpool, Manchester United will play the first leg of a two-part EFL Cup semi-final with Hull City. United will have aspirations of winning their second (though both minor) trophy under Jose Mourinho, and the Portuguese manager himself is known for enjoying the cup competitions in England. However, United will also need to realize the importance of squad rotation, before a big match against Liverpool at the weekend, and Hull can be a threatening side on their day, which means Mourinho needs to find the best rotation that will still allow him to have a good chance of beating the Tigers at Old Trafford. Hull’s threat in a match is solely based on the performances of a few key players.
Curtis Davies, Central Defender, Hull City
Given their record in recent months, it seems somewhat ludicrous to pick a central defender as a threat to United’s win. However, having watched United’s first encounter with Hull, in August, the Tigers were freshly beginning a new era under manager Mike Phelan, and Curtis Davies produced a defiant individual performance beyond any other individual defender against United this season. Now, Hull has undergone managerial changes again, and it would be no surprise to see Davies fit and firing to play United.
Davies actually has been quite solid for Hull this season, if one of the only players who has, completing four interceptions and seven clearances every 90 minutes. There have been shouts, particularly from Hull fans, to see him playing for England; which, while it also seems a little bit ridiculous, rationalizes itself when one considers England’s centre-backs at the Euros and how they are performing now. If Marcus Rashford starts again, Davies will be the man marking him, and it will be a lot harder to find him in the channels against a deep defensive side.
Robert Snodgrass, Attacking Midfielder, Hull City
Snodgrass is a unique attacking midfielder and goes often unrewarded for his abilities; with an incredible left foot, solid work ethic and incredible crossing of a ball, Snodgrass is the type of player who should be making waves in the Premier League. This notion is also matched by his seven goals and two assists in 18 league appearances this season, which is a total to be proud of. Every Premier League side this year seems to have one or two players who could carry them through matches, and it would be unfair to suggest anyone but Snodgrass plays this role for Hull; completing a remarkable 2.1 key passes per game, his performances also help him star for Scotland, his international side. Mainly as a set-piece threat, Snodgrass could pose United a lot of problems if he isn’t taken care of properly by United’s defensive midfielder.
Jesse Lingard, Winger, Manchester United
I’ve been very vocal lately about the need for Jesse Lingard to improve his performances because he has the potential to be special at United but hasn’t shown it consistently yet. He’s developmentally behind the 24-year-old at a big Premier League side, as shown by his comparability with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Alex Iwobi and Leroy Sane. However, Lingard poses the potential to tear defences apart, and he has done so when on form. Likely to start the EFL Cup tie, because I don’t think he will start against Liverpool and he didn’t start against Reading, this is a key chance for Lingard to demonstrate the player he is and prove he can be just as devastating as the other potent wingers at Manchester United.
Marcus Rashford, Striker, Manchester United
Under the lights at Old Trafford, I’ve given the nod to Marcus Rashford to start again over Zlatan Ibrahimovic, simply because his performance against Reading was admirable. A joy to watch up front, Rashford plays completely different to Ibrahimovic; the Swede’s game involves placing others in behind and maintaining a threat based on technique, Rashford can make quick runs behind and evade defenders, creating masses of space for opposition that isn’t prepared. Foreshadowing a future with Antoine Griezmann at the club, one must think of the ridiculous things United will be able to put a defender through if the Frenchman signs.
Lingard’s three goals and three assists in 896 minutes of football for United this season equates to a goal or assist every 149 minutes, which is a decent tally, and a better tally than Snodgrass, to be fair to the Englishman from Warrington. On his day, Lingard can threaten opposition with his passing, dribbling and crossing; he just needs to refine his game so that his day is every day, and he takes his chances clinically. Performances against a Hull side that likely won’t be at full strength can be the start of that.