Last time we did this, we wondered if Manchester United could stop themselves from getting in to the rut of playing draws. They did manage to avoid the draw but ended up losing the game instead. There is no denying the fact that United were again on the receiving end of some bad refereeing decisions but they did not help themselves either. It was by far one of the most ineffective and frustrating gameplay by United this season. There was absolutely no fight or desire in the way that eleven played the game. That brings us to the question of the hour. Is it just a bad phase or something more worrisome?
United ended up with a lot of draws in the first half of the season but in all those game deserved to be the winners. One can hardly say so about the game yesterday. Although the players were mostly to blame for the half-hearted performance, is there something more to this than what meets the eye. Is it possible that some of the critical players in that team have simply been burnt out? Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick amongst others, were poor against Hull City and one of the reasons for that may be the relentless game time that they are being subjected to. Premier League is a tough beast and to play as many games as United are playing, with consistent intensity, might tire you out sooner than you think. One can go deep down in this analysis but the best way to approach this situation would be to rotate the side heavily on Sunday for the game against Wigan Athletic.
It is a perfect opportunity for Jose Mourinho to rest his main first team players and give them a breather ahead of the midweek league game against Hull City, yes it’s them again. Let’s have a look at what might be the starting XI for the game on Sunday
Starting XI Prediction (4-2-3-1):
Goalkeeper – Sergio Romero
One would have expected Romero to start the second leg of the EFL cup semi-final but it was not to be. However, Mourinho has publicly said that Romero will start in the goal on Sunday with the young Joel Pereira on the bench. Romero will want to keep up his good work and put in another consistently solid performance.
Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw
Both Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling have had an average season so far and the same reflected in their last game too. They have not been able to put in a solid performance for the whole of ninety minutes in any of their games so far. Mourinho might want to bring Blind back in to the center of the defense and re-introduce Shaw, at left-back, who has been training with the first team without any hindrances now.
Defensive Midfield – Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba
Carrick seems to have lost some of his magic and performance in the past couple of games so some rest might do him good. Same with Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba. However, due to the short number of midfielders and Pogba needing some time in the middle to get his confidence back up, Mourinho might persist with the Frenchman for this game and rest Herrera. Pogba has been ordinary since the Liverpool game and needs a good game to get back in his groove. The Wigan game might serve as a great chance to do so. With Carrick and Herrera possibly rested, Fellaini will most probably start alongside Pogba, which won’t help Pogba’s movement one bit, but that seems like the likely combination.
Wingers – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial
Like Romero, Mourinho also mentioned that Martial will get a start against Wigan. Martial needs to capitalize on these chances and take back the position which he owned for the most part of the last season. Jesse Lingard who featured in the Hull City game this week did not do enough to warrant another start so Mkhitaryan might make his way back to the starting XI. The Armenian was in scintillating form when he resurfaced at United but has also been a little off-color in the last 2-3 games. Both these players would want to get back in to their groove for the business end of the season.
Number 10 – Juan Mata
Mata was the culprit for the draw against Stoke City where he missed an open goal while also effecting an own goal. These things happen and does not in any way reduce Mata’s importance in this team. The Spaniard is the creative hub of the team and with Mkhitaryan on his side, the transition to the final third might be smoother and more effective than it has been in the past few games.
Striker – Wayne Rooney
Ibrahimovic looked a little below par in the last game and it would only make sense to give him some time off to get himself ready for the next league game. FA Cup is important but the league is more important and Ibrahimovic needs to be at his sharpest if United are to have any chance to make it top four this season. Mourinho thus would probably bring in Wayne Rooney to fill in Ibrahimovic’s huge shoes. Rooney, too, has not been in the best of the forms but with that big record of his chest now, maybe the performances will improve.
It will be interesting to see how Mourinho balances his squad strength and rotation for this upcoming game. One thing is for sure, with the league game coming up in three days after the FA Cup game, Mourinho will have to utilize his players carefully. United would want to put the tie to bed as soon as they can as a replay, or even worse, a loss will make things much difficult for Mourinho’s United. Right now Mourinho is the only Premier League manager to be competing in all four competitions that he started with. Let’s see how many of them can he take it right to the end.