Manchester United progressed to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, crashed out of the FA Cup and drew a winnable fixture against a ten man Bournemouth, all in the last two weeks. United’s poor showing in the league has only made the Europa League much more important for them than what it should have been. But with Premier League you will always have your chance and with Liverpool playing against Manchester City over the weekend, the Red Devils again have a chance to make up on some lost ground.
United will play against Middlesbrough who have very recently parted company with their manager. It is very usual to see, that team upon sacking of the managers tend to play much better in the first few games under the new leader. Put that along with United’s woeful home performances and results and one could easily see another frustrating draw. But this is not a time to be negative but to be optimistic about the team. With players falling down like a sack of potatoes in the last game, Mourinho has a very tough job of picking the right personnel for the game. He will be aware of the fact that a lot of his players will be under a lot of physical stress. Add to that the ones who will be unavailable due to the bans and United might feel a little thin going in to the game.
Starting XI Prediction (5-3-2/3-5-2):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
After Sergio Romero’s heroics in the last game, De Gea will most probably make a comeback to the squad. With Romero doing so well, De Gea might have a good little competition going on with his Argentinian counterpart. This can only be healthy for the team and will help both the number ones eventually.
Back five – Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw
Mourinho has started employing the new system of playing with wing-backs and three center backs since the first leg against Rostov. It is far too early to see if it will be a successful system for United under Mourinho but with this, the defensive stability has been much better than with four at the back. However, the opposition has not really been strong enough to test the back line rigorously. Valencia, who was a star performer against Rostov, should continue playing on the right-hand side while the left wing back position might see a change. Daley Blind took an elbow against the Russian opponent and the game might come too soon for him. In his absence, Shaw, who has not played since the league game against Bournemouth, might be brought in. The center of the defense might be made up of Bailly, who has been solid as always and Jones and Rojo, who also have been surprisingly good.
Central Midfield – Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick
Fellaini came on as Paul Pogba’s replacement in the last game and might be the same again for this game. He did well against Rostov and will be hopeful of impressing the crowd at Old Trafford who have not always been warm to the Belgian. Mata was good against the Russian side and will most probably keep his position, at least for an hour or so before getting substituted, if things go as per the plan, with Carrick on his side to keep things safe.
Forward – Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan
The Armenian has played a critical role in almost all the games that he played after his come back. His presence on the pitch improves the play in the final third. United have lacked that and that is where Mkhitaryan needs to pitch in. Rashford on the other side will have to rely on his primary qualities; speed and precision. The youngster is extremely good at making runs behind the defense but where he lacks is his hold up play and taking the mantle of the lone striker. Hence Mkhitaryan’s presence will certainly benefit him.
This is a very crucial game for United if they believe they can still make top four and if they want to keep that hope alive further. United have two games in hand and are six points adrift of Liverpool who are fourth in the table. It is a weekend to make up ground and keep going from there on. United have a terribly busy next few weeks, barring the international break of course. Mourinho will have to be shrewd and intelligent in managing his players and avoiding any further injuries. But let’s take one game at a time and hope that this one isn’t another irritating home draw but a league game win that the team needs so badly.