Manchester United will go head to head with West Ham United in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening, just three days after lifting the Carabao Cup at Wembley after beating Newcastle United 2-0 with goals from Casemiro and Marcus Rashford. It was the first trophy for Erik ten Hag since taking over as United manager and hopefully the first of many in the not too distant future. United will be seeking to remain in the FA Cup this season.
In the FA Cup so far this season United have beaten Everton 3-1 and Reading 3-1 with both matches played at Old Trafford, much like this one against the Hammers. David Moyes’ side have beaten Brentford 1-0 and Derby County 2-0 to reach the fifth round of the competition this season with both teams seeking a place in the quarter final stage draw. United are the only team in England to have been playing in four competitions prior to Sunday’s final – now three competitions.
United face Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon before they face Real Betis in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg four days after that. It is a busy period for United but they would have it no other way with matches coming thick and fast for the foreseeable future. United had just four matches in March, which is now six and could well result in Premier League match against Brighton and Hove Albion being postponed, if United win.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Martinez, Malacia;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has had a brilliant week at Manchester United. His form helped United knock Barcelona out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening, days after matching Peter Schmeichel’s clean sheet record for United in the 3-0 victory over Leicester City at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Days after beating Barcelona, United lifted the Carabao Cup at Wembley after a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United with De Gea getting his 181st clean sheet.
The Carabao Cup was De Gea’s eighth trophy for United with him as one of two players to have lifted the Premier League at the club under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson – the other being Phil Jones. In the past few years, there seemed to be very few players who had the winning mentality to guide United to another Premier League title but this season, there have been a few players who have shown that mentality with United striving to achieve.
Erik ten Hag is a great manager for United and the work he has done in nine months is clear to be seen. You only need to look at the negative press that United are getting now to see that the ABUs know they are coming back and will be a lot stronger than they have been in the past decade, which is when United last lifted the Premier League title. It has been six years this May since United lifted the UEFA Europa League – their last trophy prior to Sunday’s victory.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Martinez, Malacia
United’s defence have done wonders this season. In the eight matches played in February, which ended with the Old Trafford club lifting the first trophy of the season, this defence have conceded just six goals – three of those against Barcelona – the team they knocked out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening. Raphael Varane, added to the arrival of Lisandro Martinez has formed a pretty solid defensive partnership this season, getting results from other players.
Varane and Martinez started together in the last two matches and against the Hammers I think we could see Victor Lindelof partnering with the Argentinian FIFA World Cup winner. This will give Varane a rest prior to the clash with Liverpool at Anfield, which is the first big match of March with United seeking to do the double over Liverpool this season – United beat them 2-1 in August 2022. Varane could come on should he be needed later in the match.
In the fullback positions, Aaron Wan-Bissaka should start at right-back with Diogo Dalot still seeking to find full match fitness following his recent return from a thigh injury. It is possible that he could be brought on later in the match to add a more attacking fullback to the team. Luke Shaw should be rested for this match with Tyrell Malacia starting for the first time since the 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The defence should be strong enough for the Hammers.
Midfield: Casemiro, Sabitzer
United’s midfield is great this season, even with Christian Eriksen on the sidelines through injury at this time. Casemiro has been the signing of the summer so far because he has driven the mentality that United need at the club and he came here to win things, already adding the Carabao Cup to his collection on trophy wins which now add up to 20 throughout his club career so far. The Brazilian really has what it takes to achieve so much with United this season and beyond.
I believe that Casemiro should start this match, even if he is replaced at some point in the second half. What he brings to the team is something that United seem to be lost without and now that he is no longer suspended domestically, he will want to play each match that he can. Obviously with Sunday’s match against Liverpool being a big one, he will need to stay fresh for it. Marcel Sabitzer could feature alongside him from the start of the match – both adding their experience.
The Austrian is a talented midfielder and despite being at the Theatre of Dreams for less than a month, he has won his first trophy with the club, the fifth of his career so far. United should be seeking to sign him permanently in the summer as it is players like him that United will need going into the future. Many predicted that United would fall from their grace after Paul Pogba left the club last summer, but United have never needed to look back, it’s Pogba’s fall from grace now.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
This is the area where the majority of the goals scored by United this season have come from. Antony has six goals and one assist to his name so far this season, which has been a good start for him at United and winning the Carabao Cup – his first trophy at the club will underline things more for him and keep him hungry. He’s started to settle at the club now and seems comfortable showing his skill and showboating, getting the better of his opposition much of the time.
Bruno Fernandes has seven goals and nine assist so far this season and he has not really started to find his real form yet. There are matches that he is one of the best players on the pitch and others where he struggles to get involved in the match. On Sunday, it was a mixed match for him, especially with him missing the goal at the end of the match. That said, he is a quality player and has a haul of goal contributions at the club. He is the real captain of United this season.
Marcus Rashford is the man of the moment for United. He has 25 goals and seven assists for the club this season and is by far the highest achiever at the club in terms of goals scored and created. He will want to stay fresh for Liverpool on Sunday so might play a small part in this match from the start. These three players have scored 38 goals and 17 assists – 55 goal contributions so far this season. There is more for these players to achieve but they are going in the right direction.
Wout Weghorst has been a great signing for United since January. He has been available for every match United have played since his signing was confirmed – starting each one. He may have been hooked at half time against Barcelona last week but he still started against the Magpies at Wembley winning the first trophy of his career. Some seem to think he offers nothing going forward because of the fact he’s scored just one goal and two assists so far.
The Dutchman may not get a permanent move to United in the summer but he’s the player that United needed in terms availability post-Cristiano Ronaldo as United were already one short in the attacking ranks, especially with no other striker after Anthony Martial, who has been injury prone this season. The Frenchman has returned to training but it is unlikely that he will be back for this match but he could have some involvement against Liverpool.
Weghorst has some great hold up play and his work rate shows a strong work ethic. He is always trying and that sets a good example amongst the rest of the squad and in turn will raise the mentality of his teammates because in the not too distant past there have never been as many role models at the club for the younger players and those not as experienced in the perils of club football and winning things. It might be a new feeling for Weghorst but his mentality was needed.
Substitutes: Heaton; Maguire, Varane, Dalot; Fred, Pellistri, McTominay; Sancho, Garnacho
Erik ten Hag will have nine players at his perusal on the bench with the view of using up to five of them as substitutes in the Emirates FA Cup. He used all five of his substitutes against Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup on Sunday, ending up lifting the first trophy of his tenure as United manager. I would expect that Tom Heaton is once again selected as the reserve goalkeeper against the Hammers with De Gea set to start and continue his magnificent season for United.
In defence, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Diogo Dalot could all be available with Varane rested for Sunday but on the bench should he be needed. Luke Shaw should also be rested, leaving him out of this match as it will be crucial that he is ready to take on Liverpool, who will want to fight back against United. Maguire will be seeking minutes though having played just 906 minutes so far this season with Lisandro Martinez playing 2,602 and Varane playing 1,831.
In the midfield, United will have the likes of Fred, Facundo Pellistri and Scott McTominay to utilise with Pellistri needing to get more minutes on the pitch this season. Fred has become a good player for United this season and plays a big part in big matches. In attack, United will be light in numbers with Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho. It is possible that Anthony Martial could find some involvement here but it seems unlikely given his lack of fitness.
Written by John Walker