Predicted XI: [4-2-3-1] Maguire & Lindelof in defence? Casemiro & Sabitzer in midfield? Pellistri to get a chance?

United have strength in depth, even with injuries - but quality is the main problem

Manchester United return to Premier League action against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Sunday. Erik ten Hag’s side drew 2-2 with Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League quarter final first leg at Old Trafford on Thursday evening, losing both Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez to injury. The Argentinian has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, which is a massive blow and the Frenchman out for a few weeks – so there is some good news at least.

United will be boosted with their midfield with Casemiro eligible to feature in domestic competition once again and the return from injury of Christian Eriksen. Scott McTominay should be back in action too. Marcel Sabitzer scored both of United’s goals on Thursday evening, taking his tally to three goals so far this season, with an assist. He could be a decent player for the remainder of the season with United needing to find the goals to win them their matches.

United will be seeking to beat Forest and stay in the top four in the Premier League. United Sit in fourth place in the league prior to any matches being played this weekend but should Tottenham Hotspur beat Bournemouth on Saturday, United would slip into fifth place in the league. Third placed Newcastle United face Aston Villa and should they not win at Villa Park, a victory for United over Forest would send them back into third place in the Premier League.

Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1

De Gea;

Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw;

Casemiro, Sabitzer;

Antony, Fernandes, Sancho;


Goalkeeper: De Gea

David De Gea is the best goalkeeper at the club this season. That might change in the future – but for not it will surely be him starting the remaining matches for the club. Jack Butland and Tom Heaton might get some chances before the end of the season but that will depend on United reaching a position whereby they will all but guarantee a top four finish in the Premier League. Heaton is still injured at the moment, so he won’t feature for the foreseeable future.

De Gea’s contract expires in the summer – although there is another year that could be added on on the same contractural terms. There was talk of a new contract but so far nothing has been sorted on that. Ten Hag will be seeking to find a new goalkeeper to take United into a new era and I would assume that a potential new contract for De Gea would revolve around him being the first-choice goalkeeper at the club. United will need to get something sorted in that respect.

De Gea is currently the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the Premier League having achieved 13 clean sheets in fewer matches than Nick Pope, who also has 13 but has not kept a clean sheet in Newcastle United’s last two matches. De Gea could reach 14 clean sheets against Forest, which would see him lead on his own merit which would also be his 186 clean sheet as a United player – some achievement for a player that could have left had it not been for a fax machine.

Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw

United’s defence has been hit with a big injury crisis following the injuries sustained to Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez against Sevilla. It looks like United will have just Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as the fully fit and experienced central defenders for at least a few weeks. That is not ideal and Ten Hag will need to find other options for the defence, which could be to play either Casemiro or Scott McTominay in the defence or blood a younger defender to the first team.

I would expect Aaron Wan-Bissaka to start in the right-back position against Forest. He seems to be head and shoulders ahead of Diogo Dalot at this stage of the season. Wan-Bissaka plays well with Antony on he right flank and that kind of play could hep to devastate Forest. I would also expect Luke Shaw to be back playing in the left-back position as he is the best player in that position. Should he not be fully fit, either Dalot or Tyrell Malacia could step in for him.

In the centre of the defence, with the absence of Varane and Martinez, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire look set to be installed for much of the remainder of the season. At least that is what it seems to be right now. Ten Hag could have a different play and could reposition some players into these positions – or at least one of them. But Lindelof and Maguire seem to be the most likely players in this position with things changing one Varane is fit. United will weather the storm.

Midfield: Casemiro, Sabitzer

United’s midfield is perhaps the strongest position in the squad at this time based on the number of options after the the starting two. I think Casemiro will keep his place. He has to as without him, United are so much worse off. His latest suspension has given United problems but now he is back, he will be a leading star on the pitch aiming to get win after win and helping United achieve what they want to achieve. It will be an uphill battle with defensive injuries at this stage of the season.

Now that Christian Eriksen has returned to fitness, he will be working on his match fitness to get back to his best following a near three months layoff. Marcel Sabitzer will be the best option to start alongside Casemiro based on what he did in the first half against Sevilla. His two goals left United cruising into the second half but the team fell off their pedestal with two late own goals which gave Sevilla a chance to reach the semi final of the UEFA Europa League this season.

United will have the likes of Eriksen, Fred and Scott McTominay in these two positions in the midfield. It could be that McTominay comes into the defence with United having just two fully fit central defenders as he has played in that position for his country. Casemiro could also be a defensive option but that would mean that Eriksen and Sabitzer would be the two best players to start in the midfield. It is not all a negative following the injuries to Varane and Martinez.

Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Sancho

Against Forest, United should be looking to improve their goal difference as there is a possibility that it could come into contention before the end of the season. With attacking reinforcement lacking depth at this stage of the season, Ten Hag has few options. I would like to see Marcus Rashford fit in the coming days so United have more options ahead of the Sevilla second leg. But for now, United will continue to play with the players that have fit. There are some good options.

Antony should start on the right-wing as his working relationship with Wan-Bissaka has been great to see with the dup working well on the right flank. The Brazilian also has an eye for goal but having scored only seven goals and one assist so far this season, I would like to see him bag a goal more often. Bruno Fernandes will also start as he is suspended against Sevilla next week. He has done so much for United this season but has so much more to give. He could be crucial here.

Jadon Sancho looks set to be the player that starts because of Rashford’s injury and after having a bright first half against Sevilla on Thursday, he waned in the second half and was soon substituted. Having scored just five goals this season, adding his two assists, it is clear that he has so much more to do at United following his brilliant performances at Borussia Dortmund prior to his Old Trafford move. United have the likes of Facundo Pellistri and Anthony Elanga in this positions.

Forward: Martial

Anthony Martial looked like that excitable player against Sevilla on Thursday evening. That is the player that every United supporter wants to see for the remainder of the season. The Frenchman has scored just seven goals this season, assisting a further three – ten goal contributions. Before the end of the season, I would like to see him at least double his number of goals – I am sure he can do that. The main things is keeping him fit as this season has been terrible for that.

Martial can be that player that pounces on some good attacking by United. This season, with a much better midfield and some attacking players who thrive on the attack, could have seen Martial in double figures in terms of goals. It does show that United do require another striker that can deputise for Martial and aid his fitness in the form of rotation. United have always thrived with great attacking players in the past and need that more than ever now. We shall see.

Wout Weghorst could come on late in the game. I would like to see him play alongside Martial as his work rate is second to none and that added to Martial’s clinical goalscoring ability, when he’s in form. that could work well. That said, the matches are running out for that to be tested. Anthony Elanga could also come in but in terms of goalscoring, he would need to improve majorly and be able to find the goal before he’s considered ahead of anyone else other than because of injury.

Substitutes: Butland; Malacia, Dalot; Fred, Eriksen, McTominay; Weghorst, Pellistri, Elanga

Ten Hag has a defensive problem on his hands following the injuries to Varane and Martinez. It could be that players like Casemiro or McTominay could provide some defensive reinforcement or that he fast tracks a youth defender into the first team for another option, which would be a gamble but also something that would be great to see. Given the injury to Heaton, Jack Butland will be the reserve goalkeeper on the bench against Forest – I’m not sure he will ever play for United.

In defence, United are just left will fullbacks at this time. Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot will be on the bench, providing that Shaw is fit to start – which seems to be the case. It won’t be easy for United without that strength of another out and out central defender in the squad but I am sure Ten Hag will have a play to solve that problem – at least until Varane is back after a few weeks or so. United may have to be much better in the midfield to protest the defence.

In the midfield, United have many options ahead of the visit to Forest. Fred, Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay could all play a part against the Premier League strugglers on Sunday. United have some great strength there for the time being. It seems to pass from one area to another – never all areas at once. In attack, Wout Weghorst, Facundo Pellistri and Anthony Elanga should all be available. It is not the greatest attacking support but for the remainder of the season, it will have to do.

Written by John Walker

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.