Starting XI Prediction: Nemanja Matic to debut in Manchester United’s final pre-season match?

Finally, pre-season is set to culminate with a final match against Italian side Sampdoria, in Dublin. United’s first six pre-season matches yielded five meaningless wins, one meaningless loss, and plenty of meaningful tactical insight as to how Jose Mourinho plans to deploy his men this season.

The formations, personnel, and results have become somewhat predictable as the tour has progressed, but the final match promises to be the most exciting as United have gained significant match fitness.

Starting XI and Formation Prediction: 4-3-3

Jose Mourinho has experimented with a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 formation at times during the tour, but the primary formation is expected to be a 4-3-3, with six central midfielders in the squad who are suited to the formation, not least Paul Pogba.

While 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 seem good options against both dominant and defensive opposition, respectively, the 4-3-3 offers a type of balance that presents itself through both Manchester United’s squad and the consequential freedom for attacking players that results from this formation.

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

Missing out on the action against Valerenga, David De Gea is set to return for the final pre-season match and most of the season. The Spanish international has been one of United’s best players on tour, saving countless penalties against Real Madrid and scoring chances against Barcelona. Joel Pereira is the most likely feature, as Sergio Romero has played the most of the three goalkeepers on tour.

Defenders: Antonio Valencia, Victor Lindelof, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian

Like De Gea, Valencia missed out against Valerenga and should start against Sampdoria. Valencia has struggled during this pre-season tour, getting sent off against Real Salt Lake after an awkward altercation involving Jose Mourinho, and making an uncharacteristically poor error for United to concede against Barcelona, but he should return in fine fettle for the season.

Mourinho could use his final match to pair Blind and Lindelof at the heart of defence. Lindelof conceded a penalty against Real Madrid, but it tainted the perception of a defender who has performed well overall this pre-season after joining the club in June.

Blind hasn’t played as a centre-back on tour, but he walked into the Starting XI for the Europa League final after a string of excellent performances, and with suspensions to Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, and Marcos Rojo suffering from a long-term injury, he is likely to pair Lindelof in defence in the Super Cup.

Matteo Darmian should continue at left-back. There are murmurs that Serge Aurier, a right-back by trade, could be joining to play this position, but Darmian has been consistently dependable for months at left-back and edges Blind, who could now be needed at centre-back.

United’s squad looked ready for the season against Valerenga, which means Bailly and Jones could miss this match as Chris Smalling and Axel Tuanzebe audition for roles in the Super Cup. Flanking them in the substituted side should be Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Demetri Mitchell, the former having been spectacular on tour and the latter adjusting very well to his new left-back role.

Midfielders: Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba

While Nemanja Matic doesn’t have a decade in front of him, and the deal was expensive, it consolidates the fact that Manchester United boast the best midfield in the Premier League. Matic should be able to make it to Dublin in time for this match, which will determine whether he has the fitness to start against Real Madrid.

Matic wasn’t suited to playing as a flat central midfielder under Antonio Conte, but performed well regardless and was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world when Jose Mourinho was the manager. Matic’s formula of winning the ball back and moving it forward should make him an upgrade on Michael Carrick behind midfield maestros Herrera and Pogba.

Herrera was United’s player of the season in 2016/17, but with Matic in the side, he stands to become an even better midfielder in the upcoming season. Herrera managed to assist 11 goals despite largely playing in defensive midfield last season, and his ability to break into the final third and win the ball should be further enabled by Matic’s tendency to sit deep.

The defensive platform created by Herrera and Matic, two of the most effective midfielders on this planet in terms of winning the ball, should suit Paul Pogba perfectly. Pogba was excellent in his first campaign but poses the potential to be a timeless figure in United’s midfield, and while he is excellent defensively, his true strengths will be showcased when his defensive work serves as a bonus to the side and he can focus on breaking into the final third.

This midfield will give United plenty of options. Against sides with two attacking midfielders in the centre of the pitch, Herrera and Matic can form a double-pivot behind Pogba to stifle opposition. Against sides lacking in aerial ability, Herrera can become the defensive midfielder and Matic and Pogba can join Romelu Lukaku in the box.

Matic, Herrera, and Pogba are joined by three other senior central midfielders in Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, and Andreas Pereira, a trio that could be as effective as the Carrick-Herrera-Fellaini trio that destroyed teams under Louis van Gaal, with Pereira adding dynamism that was missing when Carrick and Fellaini understudied Herrera and Pogba last season. Scott McTominay has also been excellent during pre-season and could play feature.

Front Three: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been somewhat of a phenomenon during pre-season, managing to write his name on the score sheet whether he toasts the opposition or gives the ball away with every touch. Give him a chance to create or score a goal and he will- this will keep him in the United side for most of the season while the other wide players are rotated heavily.

Romelu Lukaku has scored three goals in six pre-season appearances, but he has improved vastly over the course of the tour, developing his all-round play and looking ready to usurp Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s tally of 28 goals last season.

Anthony Martial has been United’s best attacking player during pre-season, and should therefore start the season. He’s one of the most talented players at the club, and now would be an excellent time to string it all together, with Mourinho stating he wants a winger to improve the squad and Mkhitaryan stapled to the team sheet.

Mkhitaryan, Lukaku, and Martial have everything; Mkhitaryan’s technical excellence, lateral movement, and quickness on the counter suit Martial’s composure in front of goal, ability to burst with pace, power, and blinding dribbling ability. Lukaku completes the puzzle, combining the strength of Ibrahimovic and the raw pace of Marcus Rashford to become the multifunctional forward United have lacked since Robin van Persie was in his prime.

Written by Aaron Moniz


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