Manchester United’s trip to Stamford Bridge with FA Cup retention ambitions now has a spanner thrown into the works. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, sidelined with an infamous suspension, is joined on the sidelines by every single other striker at Manchester United. That’s right, United has a full squad available, except for Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford.
However, Jose Mourinho is the master tactician, especially when it comes to auxiliary strikers; he fielded Kevin De Bruyne as a striker when Chelsea travelled to Old Trafford to play against David Moyes’ men in 2013, and will probably have to do something similar on Monday. This time, he’s coaching the other team, and the options are interesting; who should play up front? Here are Three Scenarios from Fabiola Cejku, Matt Henderson, and I, Aaron Moniz.
Fabiola Cejku: Paul Pogba
Jose stated that he won’t start Nicky Butt’s team against Chelsea but what we haven’t realised is that he could follow their example. No striker in the team, so we all can say is: Desperate times call for desperate measures. If it’s meant for United to play without a natural striker then we eventually need the solution as soon as possible, and who better than Paul Pogba? It’s an experiment that may not be successful but the Frenchman needs greater responsibility on the side. To find the replacement for the Chelsea game, we were looking for a Zlatan type of striker. Physically he is strong, though I am worried about his shooting accuracy on short distances; he’s scored superb goals outside the final third but can he score from close range?
However, what makes me believe that this might work is that this isn’t the only time we have this switch in roles. He can be the first team’s Scott McTominay. McTominay, a box to box midfielder playing upfront for the U23’s, has helped the team in difficult times. He and Pogba both possess huge power and excellent skills. We won’t worry if he tracks deeper than usual.
He shone in the number 10, and he could be perfect up front with the right players around him to maintain balance. Since Antonio Valencia will play right-back, Mata can be somewhat relieved of defensive duties on the wing. Mkhitaryan on the left with Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in midfield and Fellaini more advanced in the no.10 position, with plenty of pace on the left-wing and creativity on the other side, should be all that Pogba needs. Rather than playing with fear he should be rid of any doubts in his head. It’s time to show that he has Ibra’s skills, imposing fear to the opponent and controlling the game really well.
Matt Henderson: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Quite what Jose Mourinho has up his sleeve for the game at Stamford Bridge is well beyond me. No recognised striker available is either the worst luck imaginable, or the greatest mind game since they began. I’m hoping for the latter, but as it is almost certainly the former the only solution I can possibly see is Henrikh Mkhitaryan leading the line.
The likelihood is Mourinho is going to shut up shop at his former employers home ground, and having Marouane Fellaini up top would leave him without any kind of effective out ball. Step forward Mkhitaryan. His pace and trickery are more than enough to concern the Chelsea defence and he has an eye for a goal or two to boot. An alternative could be Mata, but Mkhitaryan also has something of an aerial presence about him that Mata doesn’t. From the options (of which there are very, very few) Mkhitaryan, for me, is the only viable one. Anyone else excited for it all just be over and done with?
Aaron Moniz: Marouane Fellaini
Somewhat of a wild card here; I believe Marouane Fellaini should be playing up top against Chelsea. I wrote about why Fellaini shouldn’t be a United midfielder here; however, I’ve never said anything as to why he can’t be an effective target man.
Chelsea is an outstanding side, but they can be beaten in two ways. Firstly, Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante is a solid midfield unit, but they are quite defensive. With Carrick stepping into midfield and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata dropping back, United gains a 5-2 advantage in midfield. Fellaini becomes important to this system because of his accessibility from range; he can help relieve Chelsea’s press, and United can get behind Kante and Matic quickly.
Tottenham, the only side to beat Chelsea in 2017, isolated Cesar Azpilicueta’s aerially, as he lost two duels to Dele Alli and Tottenham scored twice. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia will be tasked with providing United’s width, though I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Ashley Young on the pitch for his crossing ability. By isolating Chelsea’s players individually, Mourinho creates a battle that is much more favourable for the Red Devils.