Manchester United will battle with Brighton and Hove Albion in the Emirates FA Cup semi final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon. United’s bid for the UEFA Europa League ended on Thursday evening in a 3-0 defeat to Sevilla in Spain, losing 5-2 on aggregate across both legs of the quarter final clash. United were hoping to add another trophy to their Carabao Cup victory this season, which will now have to be the FA Cup or bust. But United will need to be up for it.
Serious questions have been asked about some United players after their performances against Sevilla on Thursday evening. David De Gea did not have a good game at all. Harry Maguire seems to have so much bad luck playing for United that is just does not bode well for the future and Anthony Martial has not laced his own boots with glory with his injury prone season and lack of firepower up front when it really matters. The end to the season could be abysmal for United.
The injuries to key players has cost United with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez on the sidelines with the Argentinian out for the remainder of the season. United have just one fit central defender for Sunday’s match with Maguire suspended for the clash, which can only be a good thing based on his last two appearances against Sevilla. Brighton have already beaten United this season still with a meeting in the Premier League yet to come with United needing to finish in the top four.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Shaw, Dalot;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea had a terrible match against Sevilla and that was not the first time this season. However, based on the time he has been at the club and his experience, a handful of matches should not define him. United were largely poor in Spain and once again let Sevilla get the better of them, across both legs. De Gea is a good shot stopper and has saved United more than he has cost them but the sun seems to be setting at the club for him. Whether he remains or not who knows.
I think he will start against Brighton. Jack Butland could be a good gamble for United but he’s not actually played yet during his loan spell. Stranger things have happened though. Tom Heaton is still out with an ankle injury, so I doubt we will see him for the foreseeable future – although it was suggested that he could be out for a fortnight but that seems to be much longer. Ten Hag will not be happy with what he has seen from his number one goalkeeper.
Because of that, he will have made plans to bring in a new goalkeeper this summer. That would depend on what happens with the ownership of the club as United do need an overhaul. There are many players who have seen better days and need to be replaced. If a Qatari takeover is competed, United will be a club that will be invested in to bring them back to their best. Under the Glazers, it will be the cheap way to sustain profit and maximum takes outs for the terrible family.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Shaw, Dalot
United’s defence has suffered a major blow this season. The loss of Lisandro Martinez for the remainder of the season and Raphael Varane, who could also miss the remainder of their season, according to reports in the media. United will need to find a solution from within – maybe promoting from the youth team, which could be good for a talented player. I think Sharon Wan-Bissaka will keep his right-back place against Brighton. His partnership with Antony is great to see.
In the left-back role, I think Diogo Dalot will keep his place. He has been a positive in the last few matches. Tyrell Malacia could be a solution too, but Dalot would be a better option which a chance possible coming later in the match. United have some good quality fullbacks at this stage of the season. Luke Shaw is a player that will not feature there as he could play in a central defensive position, as he did earlier in the season a few times against Barcelona in the first leg clash.
With Harry Maguire suspended for this match, which could be good for United considering the clangers from the past few matches. Victor Lindelof is the only fit central defender ahead of this match, which is problematic as United are an injury or two away from having a major problem. Ten Hag will have been casting an eye over youth players who will be waiting for their chance to shine. It could be good – it could be bad for United. What will be will be though.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
United’s midfield were below par against Sevilla and this will need to be addressed against Brighton. Casemiro is the barometer for United this season and he has been responsible for some great performances over the course of the season. It is important that United keep him fit and able to play with a few suspensions over the course of the season so far. United need to think about having backup for the Brazilian next season in a defensive capacity, which would be helpful.
Christian Eriksen started against Sevilla and his performance was not the best but it was not long ago that he was going to be out until late April/early May and he’s been back a number of matches already. He is an experienced player and has a great ability which has been shown by him this season. I think he will be determined to continue United’s achievement this season by pushing for an Emirates FA Cup final at the end of the season. United would deserve it.
Casemiro and Eriksen should be the mainstay in the midfield for United. However, there are suitable replacements for them later in matches and against lower grade opposition, which United may not face towards the end of the season. Marcel Sabitzer is a capable midfielder. He could be a more advanced player unless playing in a 4-3-3 formation. Fred is another that could come in and replace either of these players. I am sure United will strive to achieve in this match.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
United attacking midfield lacked without Bruno Fernandes against Sevilla. The creativity just was not there and United need the captain that strives to achieve back on the pitch. It was good that he got a rest on Thursday in a way, which puts him in the best possible mind ahead of this match. United need to win and Fernandes has a great winning mentality. The Portuguese midfielder was a great signing for United, despite criticism from those who just need attention.
Antony has been a largely positive player for United this season. His eight goals and one assist show that his adaptation from Dutch football has been a good one. Granted, he could have bagged a few more goals here and there but in terms of being offensive in front of goal, he has the ingredients to shine. Next season could be great for him. I am sure the Brazilian winger will be seeking to continue his goalscoring ability and help push United in the right direction.
Marcus Rashford was a doubt up until the Sevilla match but started on the bench and came on seeking to find something for United, but they just did not have enough to take on the Spanish side. He will need to retain his fitness and ensure that he is available to the point that United have achieve what they need this season – a top four finish in the Premier League. With United spending the majority of the season in the top four, it would be a shame not to get it.
The Frenchman is reportedly likely to see an exit from the Old Trafford club this summer because of his limited ability to score and his injury record. However, if he could find his firepower at this late stage of the season, he could possibly get himself a final chance at the club. e know he’s been a good striker at times and in pre-season, he was firing well. But as soon as the season started, he was injured and that has happened a few times now. It has not been great for United.
Martial in form is a great player to have but it is something that I tend to hope to see rather than actually see. However, since he has returned from his last injury, he has looked up for it – at least until the Sevilla match (second leg). United have gone through the entire season without a goalscorer with Marcus Rashford stepping up to the plate with his 28 goals this season. United definitely need a striker in the summer, one that is young and hungry would be good to see.
Wout Weghorst could start if Martial is unavailable because of the injury he sustained against Sevilla. The Dutchman is a good player with a great work ethic but he has been massively unlucky in front of goal to the point that it is frustrating. Ten Hag will not be happy with that but at the end of the day, having him was better than not during the second half of the season. I am sure Ten Hag will have a play for the striker role against Brighton as United need to win.
Substitutes: Butland; Malacia, Williams; Sabitzer, Fred; Sancho, Weghorst, Pellistri, Elanga
Ten Hag will have a maximum of nine players on the bench against Brighton. Five of them can be used throughout the match. United will be very short of defensive players with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez out of action and Harry Maguire suspended. In the capacity as reserve goalkeeper, with Tom Heaton injured, I would expect to see Jack Butland. Nathan Bishop could also play a part if any of the outfield players above are missing. One goalkeeper should suffice.
In defence, it could well be that just Tyrell Malacia and Brandon Williams are available. Marc Jurado has trained with the first team recently too, taking a position on the bench against Nottingham Forest last weekend. No central defensive players though. United lack them at this stage of the season unless Ten Hag promotes a youngster? Marcel Sabitzer and Fred could be the only midfielders but maybe Zidane Iqbal could be involved with Scott McTominay still out of action.
In attack, United have a good depth of players here with Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst, Facundo Pellistri and Anthony Elanga all likely to be available. However, if Martial is injured one of these players will be starting instead giving United one fewer attacking player on the bench and probably a second goalkeeper instead. If anything, this stage of the season proves that United need more depth in the squad – there are a number of players for depth but the quality is lacking.
Written by John Walker