Manchester United will host Stoke City on Sunday, the last game before the international break and the heavyweight lineup that awaits on the other side. United, after going through a terrible week, picked themselves up pretty well, with three wins on the trot. But in spite of registering these wins, their performance has been very inconsistent. The Northampton Town game and yesterday’s Europa League game are the perfect example of United’s inconsistencies. These two poor performances were spliced in the middle by a supreme attacking performance against Leicester City. The only thing that changed was the quality of the opposition and the stature of the tournament. It is not clear as to what the problem is but the United fans will be looking to Mourinho to fix it sooner rather than later.
A lot of people feel that the midfield partnership holds the key to the level of performances. With Ander Herrera starting, the midfield has looked very dynamic and energetic. Put Marouane Fellaini in and the speed reduces drastically. It will take some time to analyse and see if that is the only reason for United’s inconsistencies but for now it poses a genuine concern. However, in spite of these concerns what is heartening to see is that the team is pulling out results irrespective of the ineffective performances. The manager will be hoping to find the perfect answer to the jigsaw that United’s midfield is.
Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
A relatively weaker side that played in the Europa Cup tie gave a glimpse of who one can see in the upcoming Premier League game. Formation, too, on the paper might look the same as the last time, a 4-2-3-1. But as has been seen, Pogba might be given the license of going forward during the attacks which will effectively change the shape and dynamics of the formation.
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
With a fit De Gea in the side, Romero can only hope to play in the Europa cup and league cup games. Spain’s number one have not had a clean sheet in some time now and will be hoping to have one soon. It is not that De Gea has performed any badly but with the current system and lack of co-ordination that usually comes with new pairings, the defense was being left a little open resulting in these goal scoring opportunities.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind
In spite of letting through goals, the back four, especially Bailly and Blind, have been more than decent. Blind is turning out to be a great asset for Mourinho, precisely because of his footballing acumen and flexibility that he offers. We might see a team which is largely similar to the one that played against Leicester. The back four are amongst the ones that are bound to go unchanged.
Central Midfielders – Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba
Herrera has impressed Mourinho a lot in his past few appearances, not just with his footballing display but also his attitude and hunger to have the ball at his feet. He has been a game changer for United’s midfield, which was starting to accept Fellaini in there. Herrera alongside Pogba looked like an exciting partnership and something that could be developed upon. That might very well be the reason of not have Herrera in the squad for last game. Pogba is starting to come in to his own and with Herrera alongside, he looks even more menacing.
Wingers – Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial
Rashford’s story just keeps getting better day by day. As soon as United signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic people started talking about how Rashford won’t get the minutes necessary for his development. Two months in to the season, Rashford is starting basically every game. His speed, composure and ability to run behind the defense is what sets him apart in the team right now. With Zlatan in the team, the striker’s position is taken but Rashford has easily adapted to a role on the wings and is doing pretty well for himself. Martial, on the other hand, has not set the Premier League on fire like last time. But his small cameo against Zorya Luhansk showed the potential that the youngster possesses.
Number 10 – Juan Mata
Mata has owned this position in the last two games and has shown what a creative and intelligent number 10 can bring to the side. The link up with the wingers and strikers has been good too. Mourinho’s recent comments also indicated that he sees Mata in his long-term plans at United and hence it is crucial for Mata to keep performing the way he has since the beginning of the season.
Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The Swedish hero has got off to a good start in England and should be looking to capitalize on it. He did not score against Leicester but played one of, if not the best performance in United jersey. His hold up play, finishing, and marshaling of the youngsters has been his strengths so far at United. Things will get clearer as the season progresses, but for now, Zlatan seems to have comfortably slotted in the Premier League.
It is of paramount importance that United go in to the international break on high. With City already six points in front, the Red devils cannot afford any more hiccups. Also, keeping in mind the upcoming fixtures, the morale of the squad needs to be right up there. Another performance like the first half against Manchester City, and United might end up leaving too much to do already. Stoke City have been having their issues and have had a worse possible start to their season. If United could capitalize on that then the victory seems to be the likelier conclusion for the men in red.