After every team above Manchester United in the table won their Premier League games this week, it is imperative that United keep their winning run going with a victory over Middlesbrough. Not only does United play Middlesbrough this weekend, but Manchester City will also be playing against Liverpool, which represents the chance for United to gain a lot of ground on their Champions League rivals. Middlesbrough earned wins during visits to the Emirates and the Etihad, meaning this home match will hardly be a walk in the park, but if United is to qualify for the Champions League and potentially gain ground on Chelsea, the league leaders, they will need to win fixtures like this one.
Victor Valdes, Goalkeeper, Middlesbrough
The iconic former Barcelona goalkeeper is now playing for Middlesbrough, but this journey involved a brief stop at Manchester United, during which he played around 100 minutes of football and fell out with former United manager Louis van Gaal. Victor Valdes is very talented and can make outstanding saves, and he certainly has history with Manchester United. Away goalkeepers have been spectacular against Manchester United this season, and Valdes could threaten United’s chances of winning if he gears into form.
Adama Traore, Winger, Middlesbrough
Perhaps a winger without a single goal or assist is an unorthodox choice, but Adama Traore’s lightning pace can be eye-catching for Middlesbrough, and the former Barcelona youth player is usually Boro’s main outlet on the counter. Traore’s relatively average statistics are met with one ridiculous outlier- the Spanish winger averages a remarkable five dribbles per game in the Premier League. In addition, while his WhoScored rating is a meagre 6.87, this is heavily weighed down by his substitute appearances- when Traore starts games, his rating equates to a remarkable 7.44, which is higher than every United player, barring Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Combine these facts with his incredibly young age of 20, and Traore could be a future star.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Attacking Midfielder, Manchester United
After five months at the club, three injury scares and temporary isolation from the first team, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has finally answered his skeptics in emphatic style, scoring three goals and providing two assists in his first months of actual football. Overall, this season, Mkhitaryan contributes to a goal or assist every 122 minutes, which is incredible considering the number of meaningless substitute cameos he has made.
Mkhitaryan seems to offer an attacking verve that few players in the world can muster- neat dribbling, quick thinking and movement, tricks on the ball and searing pace, but also hard work, the ability to pick a pass from anywhere on the pitch, defensive nous and solid finishing and striking of the ball from range. It’s almost as if Mkhitaryan has moulded himself in the image of a perfect midfielder and winger. United’s search for a goal could be heavily dependent on their diminutive Armenian, as will be the case for a while.
Anthony Martial, Winger, Manchester United
Jesse Lingard’s cameo against Sunderland provided us with the usual- the United youth product makes excellent runs but offers almost nothing on the ball. Martial, capable of doing exactly what Lingard does, offers an edge more, and therefore, he should start. Rumours have been surrounding Martial’s discontent since his divorce, but he remains the most gifted young footballer at Manchester United, and it is time for him to prove that. Scoring 17 goals and assisting nine in 48 matches from the left-wing is incredible for any player, let alone one in a defensive system, 20 years of age and whose strength isn’t even goals and assists. Such is the level of Anthony Martial, and if he can reach it again over this Christmas period, United will blaze aside any opponent in their path.