After a painful and frustrating Premier League weekend where Manchester United failed to capitalize on an excellent opportunity to move up the ladder, the mighty Red Devils will now travel to FC Rostov for their away leg of the round of 16 in the Europa League. A lot of fans are now of the opinion that Europa league might be the primary route for United to qualify for the Champions League. However, it is far difficult than a lot of them make it out to be. Yes, there aren’t a lot of “tough” teams around in the competition anymore but United still has to overcome seven games in order to win the tournament. There will be a lot of challenges in doing so and one of them will be the travel included in the away ties. United have had to take an eight-hour flight to Russia for this game and to make matters worse, have an FA Cup quarter-final to play in four days after the game.
Putting all these things in to perspective, Jose Mourinho has a tough task of deciding on whether to play his strongest eleven or rest some players for the FA Cup game. Another factor which might affect his decision to select his squad will be the pitch. There has been a lot of criticism of the pitch and rightly so. With such a pitch to play on, the injury chances might increase several folds and Mourinho might be wary starting a few of the players he would have liked to play. Let’s have a look at what might be the starting XI for United.
Starting XI Prediction (4-3-3):
Goalkeeper – Sergio Romero
As has been the case till now, Mourinho has had the luxury of resting his goalkeeper on numerous occasions. He might do it in this game too with Romero filling up David De Gea’s shoes. The Argentinian has been doing well in the goal and has not conceded a lot of goals, in spite of giving some scares every now and then. Mourinho will be looking to have his primary number one fresh and ready for the FA Cup game.
Back Four – Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marcus Rojo, Daley Blind
United’s back four has not been consistent in the past few games. With a number of games United are playing and the injury and suspensions the defenders are getting, Mourinho has been regularly forced to change his back line. This time too he will have to change it up a little with Eric Bailly ruled out for the game due to his red card in the last game and Luke Shaw not traveling with the team. Young has done decently in the right back position although not to Antonio Valencia level. HE might get another look in along with Jones and Rojo who had been so crucial for United during that winning run in December. Blind might be brought in over Matteo Darmian in absence of Luke Shaw.
Central Midfield – Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
Mourinho would want Michael Carrick ready for the Chelsea game and given the fact that he played a game only a few days back might make the manager go with Fellaini instead. Schweinsteiger would have been a better option, but he hasn’t travelled with the squad. Herrera and Pogba will most probably keep their place considering the lack of other options.
Front Three – Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been deemed fit and hence has travelled with the squad, however, looking at the pitch condition Mourinho might want to steer clear of starting the Armenian. A hamstring injury is very easy to recur if played in unsuitable conditions and that is exactly what these are. Mata might play on the right wing along with Rashford on the other flank. With Ibrahimovic banned for three games, he will miss out on the FA Cup quarter-finals, which might mean Rashford plays as the central striker. The manager might want to give him sufficient game time in order to have him up and ready for the crucial tie against Chelsea. There is no doubt who the striker would be in this game, especially with him being out of any other fixtures for next couple of weeks.
This is an important game considering it is an option that might confirm United’s Champions League spot. But in spite of that United and the manager would want to proceed with caution given the pitch conditions. Winning is certainly the goal, but apart from that Mourinho would also want to take all of his squad back to Manchester without any injuries. Let’s hope that he is successful in achieving both these objectives.