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Starting XI Prediction: Should Rojo and Jones be brought back as the first choice center back pairing?

On the back of a fantastic comeback win against Middlesbrough, Manchester United will travel to London to play West Ham United in what would be the last game of the busy festive season schedule. United have, so far, done pretty well to accommodate the time crunch between the fixtures for past four weeks or so. They would want to keep doing this for the rest of the season, if they are serious about progressing and doing well in all the competitions that they are part of. But for now, this team seems to have clicked and is looking in good shape, physically, yes but more importantly mentally.

This was one of the few United wins that one can remember which they have won after going behind so late in the game. This mentality will help United achieve their minimum target for the season, of ending in the top four. The game against Middlesbrough was one of those games which in spite of not being against a big name opposition, was a must win. With Liverpool playing Manchester City only a few hours later, it was necessary for United to take all the three points and close the gap further. They did it and now the next thing they need to target is a win at West Ham. Mourinho had to be without the services of Michael Carrick, due to some illness, but more importantly even Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were rested. It seems they have overtaken Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly as the first choice center back pairing. So will they be back against West Ham?

Starting XI Prediction (4-1-4-1):

Goalkeeper – David De Gea

De Gea was a spectator for most part of the game barring that one shot which went in. When a keeper is so underutilized in a game they might lose a little bit of concentration and that seems to be exactly what happened to De Gea. Of course it was not an easy save to make but it is his own fault that he has raised the expectations so high that supporters expect him to somehow block such shots. He will want to be even more careful and sharp in front of the goal next time around.

Back Four – Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian

There is not even a point in discussing if Valencia will be in the team or not. If he is fit, he shall play. In spite of having such a difficult run of games considering the time crunch, he has been in such top physical shape that he has been able to play most of them for the whole 90 minutes without any trouble and at the top gear. Similar things can’t be said about Daley Blind who has been playing at the left back for a couple of games. With the emergence of Bailly and resurgence of Jones and Rojo, Blind lost his center back position but has been utilized in that area once in a while when he is not playing left back. He did well at left back but was ok, at best, against Middlesbrough. With Mourinho taking him off early in to the second half in the last game, he might want to go back to Darmian till the time Luke Shaw is fit to play.

Defensive Midfielder – Michael Carrick

This is more of a hope rather than the expectation. Carrick has been instrumental to United’s success off-late and every United fan would be hoping to see him on the field against West Ham. Mourinho did mention that he has a good chance of recovering till the west ham game but with only 48 hours to go in between, things might change.

Attacking Midfield – Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial

Martial was brilliant against Middlesbrough and would be hoping to keep his place. Same thing applies to all the other three players in this category. Mkhitaryan, Herrera and Pogba have all been fantastic in the last few games and Mourinho would want to stick to this combination, more or less. The understanding with each other has been developing and getting better. With Carrick sitting behind to provide additional cushion to the back four, Herrera and Pogba can afford to indulge in to some risky aggressive football.

Striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic already has equal number of goals (17) as United’s top goal scorer, in all competitions, last season. There is no way Mourinho can even think of giving the Swedish hero a rest. United need as many points from their rest of the games in order to remain significant in the top four battle. Ibrahimovic has a big role to play in that.

With the game against Liverpool almost around the corner, United now have a chance to close the gap further down but only if they beat West Ham. The players and the managers need to take it one game at a time. With Liverpool playing United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in their next five to six weeks, United would want to take as many points in these weeks and maintain the pressure on their rivals. If United keep performing as they are, it is only a matter of time that they get back in to the top four, provided the referees don’t decide to jumble things up. Lets start the new year with a win and take every game as they come.

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