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Starting XI Prediction: Jose Mourinho to adopt a more compact and pragmatic shape against Stoke City?

“But he can do it on a cold, windy night at Stoke” has become quite the saying amongst Premier League fans ever since Stoke City’s promotion to the top-tier back in 2008. The bet365 Stadium has proven itself as a tricky fixture to teams over the years, particularly with the big guns, as ‘Stoke away’ is always a fixture in which fans keep a close eye out for. Although the days of Tony Pulis’ ‘long ball’ and Rory Delap’s fifty-yard throw ins are now long in the past, Manchester United’s trip to Stoke this Saturday evening is arguably their biggest test of the season so far. Following Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic attitude, specifically when it comes to away games, one must wonder as to whether the Portuguese tactician is tempted to shaken things up and adopt a more compact shape to the team.

Starting XI Formation Prediction (4-3-3):

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

After small whispers of a move to Real Madrid resurfacing in the Summer, De Gea has remained as calm, professional and quality as ever. The Spaniard is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at present and has hit the ground running again this season. Whilst arguably being the first name on the team-sheet in any competition, De Gea is expected to start this weekend and will certainly play a pivotal role in any success that United are to experience this season.

Back Four: Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Daley Blind

After keeping three clean sheets out of three, Mourinho is expected to make zero changes to the defensive line that has looked very solid and reliable so far this season. Both Phil Jones and Eric Bailly look to have formed a strong and formidable partnership at the back and despite impressing on international duty, one wouldn’t expect Victor Lindelof to be thrown into this game for his Premier League debut. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia have also both impressed in the opening three games of the season, providing some good balance to the side through their offensive and defensive duties down each flank. It would be a rather bold move by Mourinho if he were to alter the current back five, as after the three clean sheets so far this season, United look arguably the most solid side defensively in the League.

Midfield Three: Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini

Should Mourinho make any changes, then we should certainly expect to see so across the midfield area, where he may be tempted to opt for a more compact shape in a game in which Stoke will certainly be up for. For those who watched their match against Arsenal, fans will certainly be wary of Stoke’s threat on the counter attack, in which players such as Jese Rodriguez, Ibrahim Affellay, and Saido Berahino will all look to pose a threat with their runs in behind the United defence. After Marouane Fellaini’s goal against Leicester City, alongside his run out for Belgium during the international break, Mourinho may well turn to his go to guy this weekend, to offer some extra defence assurance. Fellaini would no doubt be starting alongside Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, two players who have their positions nailed down as guaranteed starters.

Attacking Three: Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

If Fellaini does start this Saturday, it would more or less result in the sacrifice of either Juan Mata or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, in order to maintain the solid 4-3-3 shape. With Mkhitaryan being the more suited to the right-wing position, alongside his incredible tally of five assists in just three games, the Armenian is simply to hot to drop and thus one would expect Mata to fall to the bench this weekend. In terms of the lone striker, there is only one name on everybody’s lips at the moment – Romelu Lukaku.

The big Belgian has certainly hit the ground running in a United shirt, scoring three goals in just three league games, whilst also grabbing three goals for Belgium over the international break, in which they secured early qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Whilst the striking option is rather picked for itself, on the contrary, the left-wing position is certainly not. Although Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have both started the season in hot form, Mourinho rarely plays the two together, as both players have been regularly battling it out for that spot out on the left.

However, following his goal against Leicester and also his man of the match performance against Slovakia on Monday night, Marcus Rashford is certainly a man on a high and Mourinho may struggle to keep the young Englishman on the bench. It is certainly a close call, between who gets the nod between the two attacking prospects and in reality, it could go either way.

Written by Joshua Gmerek-Iftakhar

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