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Preview: Manchester United to end 2016 in style?

Old Trafford, Manchester

Premier League 2016/17

Saturday 31st December 2016 – KO 15:00

Referee: Lee Mason

Assistant Referees: Mick McDonough and Darren Cann

Fourth Official: Neil Swarbrick

Manchester United host Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve in what will be a great end to 2016 for the Red Devils, providing they extend their eleven match unbeaten streak, adding to their four-match winning streak in the Premier League. United have been playing some great football over the past few months, not always getting the result they wanted or needed, but now United seem to be putting something together, playing well and getting results, which will only define them under the guidance of Jose Mourinho this season. United have suffered a poor three seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, winning the Premier League title at a canter. Since then, United have failed to challenge for the title, something which may not return this season, but should return next season.

United are starting to find the best starting XI, which despite having to rotate when matches are played close together, like this week for instance, it is not always going to be the way we, the fans, may want it to be. United have some squad depth, players are able to play a few matches in a row avoiding fatigue but giving their best, which is great. Some may need a rest, but the fact United had an eight-day period between the victory over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns and the victory over David Moyes’ Sunderland at Old Trafford, that rest seems to have been granted just in time for this run of fixtures which will see United playing again with just over 48 hours from the time the match against Middlesbrough should finish until the visit to the London Stadium to face West Ham United, for the third time in just over a month, will commence. That may mean Mourinho will need to rotate once again, keeping a fresh side for the visit of Reading in the Emirates FA Cup just five days later, which will also congest fixtures in January for Mourinho’s men.

Mourinho and Karanka have history as they worked together during the Portuguese manager’s tenure at Real Madrid. Saturday’s match will be the first head-to-head encounter between the two with Mourinho praising the Spaniard, saying:

“He studies, he has accumulated experiences as a player, assistant and now coach. That makes him very capable and what he has achieved so far is not surprising at all. Karanka is a man with great emotional stability, very calm, with a very good personality. I just hope I can do better things! Karanka today is a different coach to the one I knew during my time at Real Madrid.

“He had two-and-a-half years of experience first as a coach in the Championship, one of the most difficult and demanding championships in Europe. That has made him a much better professional, coming this year to the Premier League, which in my view is the most difficult league in the world. To have that experience is very important. With me what he showed is always a very important characteristic – to be an honest person.

“He’s a man of loyalty and great moral principles. When you have that characteristic, no matter the profession that you dedicate yourself to, you will always have an advantage. Aitor has shown me that and we will have a friendship forever. I think it is the beginning of everything.”

United are in a good position when it comes to player fitness with only Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney on the sidelines, but Shaw should be back in action soon with the visit to West Ham a likely match he should be involved in, if not before. Failing that, the FA Cup clash against Reading might be a match he gets back into the thick of it. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial were both substitutes against Sunderland, with the former scoring a spectacular goal. The fact that both will be raring to go could be good for United, who need both fit and ready as they are the best players for the left and right wide positions, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line and Paul Pogba playing in the number ten role. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in midfield, and Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind filling the back four, with David De Gea in goal. Eric Bailly has recently recovered from another knee injury, he was back in training before Christmas but did not make the squad against Sunderland, which may suggest he was rested for the Boro match, being that will likely be his last at United before February with the African Cup of Nations set to commence in a matter of weeks. Perhaps he will play against Reading before leaving Manchester for Gabon.

Manchester United Form: WWWWW

Sunderland 3-1 W, West Bromwich Albion 2-0 W, Crystal Palace 2-1 W, Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 W, Zorya Luhansk 2-0 W

Manchester United are currently on an eleven match unbeaten streak, winning their last five matches in a row in all competitions, four of which have come in the Premier League, the first time United have won four league matches in a row since March 2015, which is a big achievement considering what United have gone through since that period. Jose Mourinho seems to have started something at United, something which never came under David Moyes, Ryan Giggs, or Louis van Gaal. United seem to be playing football reminiscent of the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, which is a good sign at this stage of the season, but United still have a long way to go in order to eclipse those famous days of the years gone by. United are playing some good football, taking their chances, finally, things are starting to take off.

Middlesbrough Form: LWLLW

Burnley 1-0 L, Swansea City 3-0 W, Liverpool 3-0 L, Southampton 1-0 L, Hull City 1-0 W

Middlesbrough rose from the Championship last season as the runners-up, just behind champions Burnley, who are currently just above them with a cushion of two points in the Premier League this season. Boro are in fifteenth place with 18 points from 18 matches this season, which is not the best form, but considering they have just made the jump from the Championship to the Premier League, that can be forgiven. Boro are the second highest promoted side this season, with Hull City, the play-off winners currently sitting at the bottom of the league, certain to be relegated unless they find some form and turn their season around. Boro can be a tough side, but against United, in their period of form, I see Mourinho’s men doing the business once again.

Manchester United Top Scorers:

17 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 5 – Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, 4 – Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, 3 – Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wayne Rooney, 1 – Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Own Goal, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling

Middlesbrough Top Scorers:

5 – Álvaro Negredo, 3 – Cristhian Stuani, 2 – Marten de Roon, Gastón Ramírez, 1 – Daniel Ayala, Calum Chambers, Stewart Downing, Ben Gibson, David Nugent

Manchester United Squad;

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Goalkeepers: David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Sam Johnstone

Defenders: Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Axel Tuanzebe

Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Memphis Depay, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford

Injuries and Suspensions: Luke Shaw (knock), Wayne Rooney (muscle)

Middlesbrough Squad:

Manager: Aitor Karanka

Goalkeepers: Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, Brad Guzan, Tomás Mejías, Víctor Valdés

Defenders: Fábio, George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Bernardo Espinosa, Ben Gibson, Antonio Barragán, Calum Chambers, James Husband, Jordan McGhee, Mark Kitching, Nathan McGinley

Midfielders: Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton, Marten de Roon, Carlos de Pena, Stewart Downing, Gastón Ramírez, Julien De Sart, Emilio Nsue, Bryn Morris, Adam Forshaw, Alex Pattison, Lewis Maloney, Robbie Tinkler

Forwards: Jordan Rhodes, Álvaro Negredo, Viktor Fischer, Cristhian Stuani, David Nugent, Adama Traoré

Injuries and Suspensions: Viktor Fischer (knee)

Predicted Starting XI:

Predicted Score:

Manchester United 3-1 Middlesbrough

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