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Starting XI Prediction: Jose Mourinho to start Anthony Martial in the Champions League opener?

After the short stay for the group stages during the 2015/16 season, Champions League nights are back at Old Trafford again. Manchester United have been a crucial part of this competition for several years but have missed out on it for two out of the last three seasons. It looked difficult for United to make it to this season’s Champions League as well but qualified for the tournament by winning the Europa League last season. Competing in this tournament is a minimum requirement for a club of United’s stature. Now that they have got here, it would be interesting to see how far can they go.

United have seven games in 22 days this month, one of which they drew against Stoke City last Saturday. With so many games to play, the manager is certain to rotate a lot of players. Some areas are well equipped to handle the rotation while some are not. Let’s have a look at what might be the starting XI for United in their first game in the tournament against Basel.

Starting XI Prediction (4-2-3-1):

Goalkeeper – David De Gea

Jose Mourinho will obviously want to have his best keeper playing through out this tournament, given the prestige of it. De Gea had kept three clean sheets up until the Stoke City game, in which also he reminded everyone why he is considered one of the, if not the, best keeper around. The manager would be looking at him to put out a similar performance right from the start of the tournament.

Full Backs – Antonio Valencia, Daley Blind

This is one area where United will have troubles rotating players in. With only Antonio Valencia, Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian currently available who usually play in these positions, Mourinho doesn’t have much to rotate. With Darmian playing the game against Stoke it is almost certain that Blind will make his way back in the squad for this game. The right flank has been consistently occupied by Valencia and will most probably continue to do so.

Centre-backs – Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof

Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who have been playing in each game since the start of the season in the central defensive partnership, will have to sit this game out serving their respective bans. In the absence of these two and Marcus Rojo still nowhere near to being fit, it seems pretty evident that Mourinho has no choice but to play with Lindelof and Smalling. Mourinho had earlier stated that Lindelof is still not ready for Premier League and hence has not had the player play in any of the games so far in the season, since the Super Cup. But for the very same reason why he played him in the Super Cup, Mourinho will again have to use his services in the Champions League opener. One would hope that Smalling and Lindelof can form a good partnership to give United a good start in the tournament.

Central Midfielders – Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba

Matic has been the player which United lacked last season. They did have Michael Carrick, but with age not on his side, he could not keep up with the intensity of playing so many games in the season and eventually his performances dipped too. Matic has been a solid replacement for United in that area and would most probably also be involved in this game. His positional awareness and ability to break up play adds an another level of defensive comfort. Pogba is the key to unlock the midfield and will be the main man for United. As has been pointed out by several pundits, fans, and commentators, Matic does provide the extra sense of security which then lets Pogba be a little flamboyant while going forward.

Wingers – Juan Mata, Anthony Martial

United certainly lack traditional wingers who are good crossers of the ball and it is evident that is the missing piece in Mourinho’s plan. But the ones that usually occupy this position have not been too bad as well. Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, all of them have been excellent in the season so far. With Rashford starting the last game it seems that Mourinho might go with Martial, who himself has been in great touch this season so far. Mata will be that creative outlet which United so often needs while trying to break the defensive teams.

Number 10 – Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan has also got off to a flyer this season and would like to continue his form in the Champions League as well. He is a special player who has special abilities to make or direct play in a way to create chances. Mourinho will be relying heavily on him to get the best out of him which will get the best of the team in return.

Striker – Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku has been a great addition to United’s side this season and has been filling out the gap, that Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury left, pretty well. He would also like to start his Champions League campaign for his new club in the same fashion as his league start. Hopefully, he will be able to find the back of the net and help United get those important three points.

United will have to be wary about getting too complacent about a relatively weaker group. In fact, it was a similar group which caused their group stage exit a few years back under Sir Alex Ferguson. Mourinho would know better and will want to get a good start to the group stages to have less pressure towards the end of this round. With so many competitions to play in, there will come a point where key players would need a breather in qualifying for the round of 16 as early as possible is one way to do that. But all that is a long way ahead and what Mourinho and his folks should focus on is the three points that are up for grabs this coming Tuesday.

Written by Chinmay Padhye

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