After the hurricane of games in the past couple of weeks, players are enjoying their much needed and deserved week-long break between games. But this break will be pretty short-lived for them considering the Boxing day and the New Year fixtures. Manchester United will see the return of David Moyes to Old Trafford, thankfully he will be sitting in the away dug out, tending to his Sunderland side. This seems like United’s the most winnable fixture till date this season, but as has been their fortunes and past this season, nothing can be taken for granted, not even a win against Sunderland.
Jose Mourinho confirmed in his press conference that he now has most of his injury casualties back in the team, including Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling. With the return of these players, the Portuguese is now spoilt for choices. The next few fixtures, however insignificant and low-key they may appear on paper, are nothing short of must win for United. Any dropped points will undo all the good work the team has done in bridging the gap to the top four. Keeping this in mind, it is of immense importance to get the starting XI spot on. Lets have a look at what might be the starting XI for the Red Devils.
Starting XI Prediction (4-1-4-1):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
The Spaniard had a pretty easy ride in the last game but was tested a couple of times, one of which was a brilliant save, against Crystal Palace. De Gea has not managed to keep as many clean sheets as he may have liked this season, but with United getting the wins, the clean sheets seem to be coming back for them too. They, especially De Gea, would want to keep it that way for as long as he can.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcus Rojo, Daley Blind
A few weeks back everyone thought that United were in deep trouble when two of their first choice center backs got injured. No one could have imagined the performances that Jones and Rojo have put in. So much so that, in spite of Smalling and Bailly being fit, they still might be persisted with for the coming game. Of course, both Smalling and Bailly have been out for some time and Mourinho will want to transition them back in the team carefully, to avoid any relapse. So Rojo and Jones could hold on to their starting spot for this game at least. Right back has not been an issue for United this season due to Valencia’s surprising resurgence. Left back is one of the problem areas but Blind can fit in there perfectly.
Defensive Midfielder – Michael Carrick
Carrick has been publicly and unanimously touted as one of the main architects of United’s midfield success in the past few games. Mourinho, too, seems to have understood the importance of the veteran in that midfield. With a good week’s rest, this game comes at the right time for Carrick. Also with emergence of Ander Herrera under Mourinho, Carrick has got the option of playing within his limits and not over-exert himself, so that he can play as many games as possible. The transition from defense to attack should be quick and direct and with Carrick’s eye for a pass, this phase of the game is where United dominate the opposition. Carrick will be looked at to do exactly that along with providing the defense any cushion, if needed.
Attacking Midfielders – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial
Mkhitaryan lit the football field on fire since his comeback to the team and would like to continue with the same confidence and vigor as he did in the past four games. He brings the much needed creativity and balance to the team and adds that one thing which sometime seems to be missing in this United team, penetration in the final third. He has an amazing ball control and seeing him breeze past the players and carrying ball from the midfield to the penalty area is a treat to behold. Alongside, he has a work horse in the form of Herrera, who has been absolutely brilliant for United this season. Pogba and Martial would complete this line of offense for United. United lacked pace in the game against Crystal Palace where they played both Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. For the same reason, Rooney might have to sit this one out and let Martial take over the left flank.
Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Can there be any doubt in who will be occupying this position? Ibrahimovic has been in such a scintillating form that he is one of the undroppable in this side right now. He will be looking to continue his purple patch and take his goal tally another step further. His clinical finish is what was missing in those frustrating draws that United had to endure. Hopefully the touch and the finishes are back and are here to stay for the rest of the season.
The next two games are extremely crucial for United. Not only are they winnable fixtures, they are also an excellent opportunity to gain some points on their top four rivals. Liverpool will play Manchester City, so if United could secure their three points, they can see themselves get even closer to the top four. Hopefully, David Moyes doesn’t disappoint the theater of dreams one more time and United pick all the three points on the boxing day. But till then, lets enjoy those mince pies and glass of wine. Merry Xmas and lets hope United make the Boxing Day even merrier!