Manchester United welcome Real Betis to the Theatre of Dreams on Thursday evening in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg. United will be seeking to come back from that 7-0 humiliation at Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. It was one of three bad results for United in the Premier League this season; Brentford 4-0, Manchester City 6-3 and Liverpool 7-0. The overreaction from that defeat has been laughable from so-called Manchester United supporters.
To see Ten Hag Out trending on social media was something that I expected from the same people who live thousands of miles from Old Trafford who seem to think that making changes like that can come after defeats. We saw a lot of it during the David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær eras at the club but these people could not distance themselves from the drama after this result – they were willing to ignore all the good signs this season.
United played their 42nd match of the season against Liverpool and had won 30 matches, drawn five and lost seven in all competitions, already winning the Carabao Cup and having a four point cushion in third place in the Premier League over fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, seven points over Liverpool. The positives are still there to be seen – reaching the Emirates FA Cup quarter finals and into the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League. Still they react like that.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martínez, Malacia;
Sancho, Fernandes, Garnacho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea had a very bad day against Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday. He conceded seven goals from eight shots on target – which was not his responsibility on his own – becoming United’s biggest defeat to Liverpool in the Premier League. De Gea will be itching to get back on the pitch again and made amends for what happened on Sunday. We have seen this in the history of the club and nothing changes now. Of course he will want to get back to it.
De Gea has been a positive this season, no matter what narratives and agendas people can put out there to discredit him. You don’t break clean sheet records of former goalkeepers at the club by being terrible at the game. Form is temporary – class is permanent is one of the mottos credited to Manchester United. That goes for the supporters too. If you want to moan and build an agenda about a player, a manager or a coach – I question why you are a so-called supporter of the club?
That said, I can’t see Tom Heaton or Jack Butland starting in goal for United at Old Trafford on Thursday evening. Not after Sunday’s result and not in an important knockout match in the last 16 of the Europa League. De Gea has his faults but he’s not as bad as people are suggesting. Yes, he’s a different goalkeeper to those who are considered as some of the best in the world but we can’t forget that he gave United his best years and we should give him a little support now.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Malacia
United’s defence had a mare against Liverpool and I am sure Ten Hag will be having them train extra hard ahead of the matches against Real Betis and Southampton at Old Trafford this week. Diogo Dalot just did not seem to be the right fit against Liverpool from the start and I wonder if Aaron Wan-Bissaka would have been a better fit. I think he will start this match, giving Dalot some time to recover from the humiliation that was Sunday’s result. What’s the worst that could happen?
Tyrell Malacia should play at left-back giving Luke Shaw some time out to recover from Sunday. He did not seem to be at his best – much alike his teammates on the pitch. Malacia is a different type of left-back, not as experienced as Shaw and probably not as good at doing both the defensive and offensive work on the pitch but it is important that he gets the chance to shine and learn on the pitch and this is what will help him do just that – playing regularly. He can do a good job.
In the centre of the defence, Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez should partner once again. They were in the thick of it against Liverpool on Sunday and like De Gea, they will be itching to get back on the pitch and change the fortunes of United once again. They have been integral to United’s season so far which has seen them stay in the top four, win the Carabao Cup, earn a quarter final place in the Emirates FA Cup and reach the round of 16 stage in the Europa League.
Midfield: Casemiro, Sabitzer
United’s midfield has had some massive changes this season but injury to Donny van de Beek and Christian Eriksen left United at barebones before the arrival of Marcel Sabitzer on deadline day. There are question marks surrounding the fitness of Casemiro ahead of this match, added to the fact he looked injured against Liverpool which give him a 50% chance of featuring against Real Betis on Thursday. I think he could start as he will want to get on the pitch again.
That is if whatever he is suffering is not severe. Obviously, Ten Hag has the likes of Fred, Scott McTominay, Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal to utilise should the Brazilian be unable to play on Thursday. That would be a big blow for United but the club has never done it the easy way. Every team will suffer blips in terms of results and injury during the season. If both Casemiro and Sabitzer are fit, they should start this match. It is an important one to build again.
Casemiro and Sabizter are both experienced in the game and both have something to offer. Obviously, United would like to have Eriksen back, but in time that will happen. Fred and McTominay could offer something from the bench and if the likes of Mainoo and Iqbal are involved on the bench, they too could offer something and gain some experience at the same time. United have a positive squad this season and one defeat should not stop them in their tracks.
Attacking Midfield: Sancho, Fernandes, Garnacho
United regressed at Anfield on Sunday and it is not something they should dwell on. What is done, is done and can never be changed. What happens now is that the club continued to function and they move on, keeping it in memory that it happened, only to inspire the players so it does not happen again. The players in this position are where the goals should be coming from. Jadon Sancho has scored five goals and one assist this season – and he will want more. Time to see that.
Bruno Fernandes has been criticised for his performance against Liverpool. United do not have the players to rest him in this match and providing he is fit and able to play, he should be doing that. Granted, he has made 40 appearances out of 42 so far this season, missing one match to suspension and rested for the other. He will be tired but he should also be inspired to lead United into this important Europa League round of 16 match. I’m sure he will want to play.
Marcus Rashford normally plays in this position but it might be time for a change. Alejandro Garnacho has been a positive this season, scoring four goals and another four assists in his first season as a main starter and after scoring some great goals already, he will be seeking to add to that and delivery for the club. He said sorry for the Liverpool performance – all that needed to be said and I am sure he will give his all on the pitch for the club that helped him nurture his talent.
Marcus Rashford has 25 goals and seven assists this season. He might not be an out and out striker but he could perform in this position. Over the last few weeks he has found himself playing as the further forward so why not continue that? He will need to be an avenue for scoring for creation of goals, which is something he has proven himself as doing and his teammates could rotate throughout the match to play as the leading man. It has got to be worth a try?
Wout Weghorst has played the last 14 matches since he signed for the club for the remainder of the season on loan. Now might be time to give him a rest, keeping him on the bench if a change of play needs to happen against Betis. Weghorst has a great work rate and without him on the pitch, perhaps his doubters will see the job he does and change their minds about him. He’s been labelled by Hairy Hands himself as the worst signing United has ever made.
There have been so many players who have been absolutely terrible for United. The Dutchman has a purpose and Ten Hag knows that. Rashford will have the chance one Thursday to show his worth for United. He has been hitting the headlines of late and has been the player to carry United forward but even that has tailed off underlining the important of United signing at least one striker in the summer, strengthening the midfield and the defence. That is a minimum.
Substitutes: Heaton; Lindelof, Maguire, Dalot, Shaw; Fred, McTominay, Iqbal, Mainoo; Antony, Weghorst, Pellistri
In the Europa League, Ten Hag will have up to twelve players to add to his bench, giving him more choice in the five substitutes he is allowed to utilise during the match. I don’t think it would be a positive to have two goalkeepers on the bench, so for that reason, Tom Heaton should be the only one on the bench. Having three goalkeepers for one match is a waste of a squad place on the bench. United should be looking to give players an opportunity to shine here.
That is the minimum needed from each player chosen to play for the club, whether they start or come off the bench during the match. In the defence, Victor Lindelof, should he make it to full fitness, Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw should all be available for the Betis match. Many will still be reeling from the Liverpool result and that should remain the case. United need to be hitting back against Betis and showing that they can come back from such a bad result.
In the midfield, Fred, Scott McTominay, Zidane Iqbal and Kobbie Mainoo could all play some role in the match. Obviously, if Casemiro in unable to feature, some changes will need to happen which could see another goalkeeper on the bench. In attack, with United light in numbers, Antony, Wout Weghorst and Facundo Pellistri could all be called upon to help bolster the attack against Betis. Obviously Anthony Elanga is part of the squad but he doesn’t offer much in attack.
Written by John Walker