After such a crowded holiday fixture list, the upcoming game seems to be coming after such a long time, in spite of it only being a week. It seems to be some time ago when Manchester United have had the luxury of time to recover for a couple of matches in a row. However, most of the players who played in the last game would not have recovery on their mind but a fight back, at least the supporters would be hoping so. Mourinho played an attacking and strong XI, however, the team struggled to create a lot of chances and were guilty of not converting the few that they did. The best way to come back from this would be to show what you have got in the game against Stoke City.
The home tie of this game was the first in the string of several draws and it started a trend which went on for quite some time, a trend of failing to score the second goal. United, in this away tie, have no option but to win in order to keep up the pressure on the teams above them. Mourinho, this time around, has a rare opportunity of not thinking about rotating the players and can go ahead with his best starting XI, considering every player should be recovered and completely fit to start. Keeping this in mind, let’s try to see what might be Mourinho’s starting XI for the game.
Starting XI Prediction (4-3-3):
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
De Gea had almost nothing to do apart from one or two saves against Liverpool and would like his defenders to keep it the same against Stoke City. Last time United played Stoke, it was De Gea’s clumsy effort that lead to the goal. He, however, has been brilliant in the last few games, whenever he has been called for.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind
One of the areas which was a concern for United at the start of the season has been addressed and taken care of by the resurgence of Valencia. The former number seven has been arguably the most consistent player for United and has made this position his and his alone. But with one flank been taken care of, the other flank has been a problem. With Mourinho trying Matteo Darmian in that position, the left side has been much limited with their attacking threat. It might be worth putting Blind back there to improve the distribution and attacking efforts. The central defensive partnership has not been a problem for United and doesn’t need any tweaking.
Central Midfielders – Michael Carrick, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera
In spite of not being as effective as they have been this season, in the last game, Mourinho would like to persist with this midfield, which is arguably the best in terms of balance. Pogba had a horrendous game against Liverpool, his worst in the United jersey, but he is still very young and these are the games which result in a player’s development. Mourinho, of course would have wanted Pogba to do well, but one bad game won’t make him drop or rest Pogba. Herrera and Carrick should also be expected to start in spite of the latter being substituted at half time.
Front Three – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial
Like the central midfield of Carrick, Pogba and Herrera, this front three seem to be United’s best in terms of balance. With Ibrahimovic, the team not only gets the finishing prowess but also the hold up play to bring others in the game. But what they lose on is the mobility and pace which is pretty effectively compensated by Mkhitaryan and Martial. Martial was doing well against Liverpool till the point he started getting double or triple marked by Jurgen Klopp’s men. The Frenchman should start expecting such tactics more often and the way he overcomes it, is what will mark his success. Mkhitaryan has been quite for a couple of games and would like to be more involved in the game, like he was since his come back from the injury.
After the disappointing draw against Liverpool, United would be looking to get back to the winning ways and keep up the pressure on the top four. With Manchester City playing Tottenham Hotspur later the same night, United have a chance to reduce the point difference and possibly move to fifth position. With so much at stake and such incentives for taking, United needs to be clinical and almost ruthless against Stoke. Lets hope they get those three points and keep their hopes of top four alive.