Manchester United will play their last game of the year against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford this weekend. 2016 has been a year of ups and downs for United; winning the FA Cup after 13 years but losing out on top four, the sacking of Louis van Gaal which marked another blow in their pursuit of achieving some kind of transition post-Sir Alex Ferguson era followed by the signing of Jose Mourinho. The season started out on a really positive note but fizzled out pretty soon due to three back to back defeats and then four consecutive home draws which left them far behind of the table leaders.
United have surely picked up a lot of that lost swagger on the field since then but could not convert most of it into three points. However, in the past few games, they have not only played good football but also picked up the important three points, helping them continue, to put pressure on the other top four contenders. United now have a great opportunity of finishing the year on a high and enter 2017 with sheer positivity and optimism. But as always, it will all depend on the XI Jose Mourinho starts with on the day.
Starting XI Prediction (4-1-4-1):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
De Gea this season has not been as scintillating as the last couple of seasons. But a lot of it also stems from the fact that he is not needed as much as last season. He will be hoping it remains the same way for him and would like to keep a clean slate this time around.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind
Mourinho will want to keep the back four consistent keeping in mind their performances in these past few weeks, especially the center backs and Valencia. The left-back role has not been a position occupied by a single player but Blind made a good case for himself in the last game with his build up play and the goal. Rojo and Jones have supposedly impressed Mourinho so much that he has pulled the plug on the Victor Lindelof deal. Valencia, on the other hand, has been one of the top consistent performers of the season and will be hoping to carry that on.
Defensive Midfielder – Michael Carrick
Mourinho has definitely struck a great balance in this United midfield and the one person that helps him do that is Carrick. Carrick has an exceptional win ratio this season and that cannot be a co-incidence. With him taking this position, it has certainly brought out the best in Paul Pogba. Carrick deserves the same amount of praise, if not more, as the back four. He is the cushion that the defense has to make their job easier. It would be interesting to see how he manages to play Carrick in the next two games, considering the lack of breathing space in between them.
Attacking Midfielders – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial
Herrera and Pogba have been the mainstay for United’s midfield this season but two substitutions made a lot of difference against Sunderland. Mkhitaryan’s impact was quite visible, to put it humbly but one should not ignore Martial’s efforts since he came on. Martial was United’s top scorer last season but has been seen struggling to hit his mark this time around. Mourinho has so far done a pretty commendable job with his man management so Martial might be the next one to benefit out of it. With him being in the middle of a transfer storm, Mourinho might want to start the Frenchman to announce to the world his intentions.
Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
As if there could have been any other name here. Ibrahimovic has been scoring almost at will in the recent games. He wasn’t at his best against Sunderland but ended up being involved in all the three goals; scoring one and assisting two. There is hardly anything that Mourinho can do or say which can justify resting or not playing Ibrahimovic, considering the form that he is in.
With Liverpool playing against Manchester City, if United win this game, they are bound to close the gap between them and top four even further. If United perform to their potential, it should not be a tough task to get past this Middlesbrough side. Hopefully, United will end the year with a bang and get all the three needed points. They have won four league games and five in total on the trot, can they add another one to the tally? Let’s hope so.