This is arguably Jose Mourinho’s biggest game of his Manchester United career so far and who would have thought that it would be against Northampton Town. With three back to back defeats, two in the league and one in the Europa League, Mourinho has to get back to winning ways. He has usually been successful wherever he has gone, in the first year at least if not more. This is, in those terms, untested waters for him and it will be interesting to see how he plans to fight back. Whatever, he does, he will have to make sure the turnaround comes sooner rather than later.
With a month full of critical and tricky fixtures ahead of them, United are still unsure of their best starting XI. To make things worse, there have been a couple of critical injuries in the team. Luke Shaw, who was criticized by the manager for one of the goals against Watford, has been deemed unfit for tomorrow’s game and doubtful for the clash against current champions of England. Add to that the knock that Anthony martial took and it means the attack and defense on the left-hand side might look completely different.
Starting XI (4-3-3)
4-3-3 might just be the way to go ahead for United although it makes it hard for the manager to involve Wayne Rooney. However, if it is the way forward, and one sure hopes so, the manager would like to, slowly but surely, transition in to that kind of setup.
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
United’s number one has not been helped by unsure defending in the past couple of games but in spite of that will be hopeful of having a good game.
Back Four – Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind
The back four looked very convincing in the first four games of the season but have suddenly started looking uncoordinated and confused. One thing that has changed is the absence of Blind. Of course, he had a poor game against Manchester City but he has been that ball-playing defender who started attacks from the back. In his absence, the passes from the back have usually been backward or sidewards making the transition from defense to attack lengthy and difficult. Blind might still be missing the center back role but possibly can take up the left back role in Shaw’s absence. One thing that was evident in the first few games was that Mourinho used his full backs as an attacking outlet. Blind might be able to fit in well but it has been a while that he has occupied this position, so it remains to be seen how well he adjusts to the role. The other flank, which has usually seen Antonio Valencia, might give way to another youngster who lit up last season; Fosu-Mensah. It might be worth giving him the chance and resting Valencia for the weekend game.
Central Midfield – Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
This combination did not work in the game against Feyenoord but may be giving them sometimes will improve the co-ordination and performances. On paper, this looks like United’s best midfield pairing and one sure hopes that they click, not only for the sake of the result but also as it endorses the 4-3-3 setup. Schneiderlin has always been solid at the back but for some reason has not featured in the line up as much as one expects him to be. He did decently against Feyenoord but keeping in mind the end result, it did not bode well for the holding midfielder. Herrera’s energy and attitude along with his eagerness to be on the ball makes his inclusion far more lucrative from United’s perspective, especially when you have someone like Pogba given the free license to go box to box.
Front Three – Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Memphis Depay
Martial looks like a doubt for the Wednesday game and it might be the perfect opportunity for Memphis to show that he should be in the contention as well. He has been played in the last two games but in both cases, was thrown in with not much time in hand. In order to judge his ability he needs to start a few games on trot only then can one decide if he is the same PSV Eindhoven player that won them the title or has he just faded off. Rashford, who has been the silver lining and bright light for United should continue on the right flank along with the Swedish hero upfront.
This on paper looks like a simple league cup game but it has a whole lot of significance to it now. Only, for this reason, Mourinho would not want to take anything lightly and would like to field in his stronger side. Too many changes might result in what happened at Rotterdam so balance is what will be needed. Mourinho would know this and it is only a matter of a couple of strong wins, for his players to get their confidence back. However, it is always easier said than done but one sure hopes that the Portuguese manager executes it well this time around.