Predicted XI: [4-3-1-2] Ronaldo, Cavani and Van de Beek to lead the attack? McTominay, Matic and Sancho in midfield? Shaw to be recalled?

Manchester United welcome Burnley to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Thursday evening in what will be the final match played in 2021. It will be shown live in the United Kingdom on Amazon Prime, the second of two match weeks the company had bought in the last television rights auction. United drew 1-1 with Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Monday evening, which was considered a poor result based on the form of the Magpies and their position in the league table. Ralf Rangnick will need to get the best out of this team, which looks very hard at this time as any form they had before a 16-day break in matches seems to have gone.

United have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League matches against Burnley, winning eight and drawing four. The last defeat was in January 2020 with Burnley won 2-0. United will be seeking to end 2021 on a high, avoiding defeat in their last match of the year. This could be the tenth year in a row – they have won six and drawn three so far. Burnley have won six of their ten Premier League points against United at Old Trafford, which will lead to some confidence for them. This will be an important match for both teams with United looking to break into the top for and Burnley seeking to avoid a relegation battle this season.

Previous meetings with Burnley and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Burnley have played a total of 14 matches in the history of the Premier League. United have won eight matches, drawing four with Burnley winning the remaining two matches. United have scored a total of 21 goals, winning four penalties and scoring two of them. Burnley have scored nine goals, winning no penalties. United have kept a total of eight clean sheets with Burnley keeping a total of four in these matches. United players have been shown a total of 25 yellow cards and two red cards with Burnley players shown a total of 36 yellow cards and no red cards. United should be winning this match.

There is much history between United and Burnley with no fewer than 15 players having played for both clubs. Phil Bardsley, Luke Chadwick, Andy Cole, John Connelly, Chris Eagles, Richard Eckersley, David Jones, Michael Keane, David May, Willie Morgan, John O’Kane, Mike Phelan, Lee Roche, Colin Waldron and John Walton have all played for both clubs. The more well known players on the list are Morgan who played for United from 1968 to 1975, Mike Phelan, current assistant who played for United from 1989 to 1994 and treble winners Andy Cole, who played for United from 1995 to 2001 and David May who played for United from 1994 until 2003.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Burnley in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Thursday evening…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

David De Gea is the difference to this United team at present. Granted, he conceded a goal against Newcastle United on Monday evening but made many saves, which have also come against all recent opposition. It was expected that Dean Henderson would challenge him for the number one shirt at the club this season but the English goalkeeper has played just two times for the senior team and it would seem that he is once again unhappy because the better goalkeeper is being given the opportunity the majority of the time. It would seem that it is just another time in the history of the club that a younger goalkeeper has been blocked out.

De Gea still has it in him to remain in his position for the majority of the season. Although it is suggested that Rangnick wants to keep three senior goalkeepers at the club and will not let Henderson leave the club in January and with him signing a new contract recently, there is no reason to let him leave on the cheap. United have some form at the back this season, even if the defence are still being found out match after match. The Spanish goalkeeper has the confidence and ability to make these saves, which is what it saving United once again – it is like the clock have gone back to 2014 again.

Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw

United’s defence was rusty against Newcastle, having not played in the past 16 days because of postponements to the Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion matches. Raphael Varane had returned from a long-term injury, which was actually back to back injuries sustained on international duty and it took a little time to get him fully fit. As soon as he has minutes under his belt, he should improve. Harry Maguire was awful against Newcastle and needs to start showing glimpses of why he’s such a highly-rated footballer. United paid £80 million for him and he needs to start paying something back as the dire performances do not help.

Diogo Dalot was caught out by Allan Saint-Maximin against Newcastle but was involved in the attack which saw Edinson Cavani score United’s only goal of the game. For that reason, and the fact he attacks more than Aaron Wan-Bissaka, he should keep his place in the squad against Burnley. Varane and Maguire should partner in the centre of the defence and perhaps Luke Shaw should be recalled to replace Alex Telles in the left-back role. Eric Bailly could be recalled into the squad for the Burnley match, with Victor Lindelof out with coronavirus and Phil Jones not really involved in the first team so far this season – seemingly him trying to keep fit to be loaned?

Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay

The 4-2-2-2 formation dies not seem to be working at United, probably because of the players at the club that do not suit it. Granted, Rangnick will need to implement something at the club but it needs to work well. Buying a whole new team is not the best way to accomplish things, but at this time when the dressing room seems to have its cliques, that might be for the best. That said, tweaking the formation could go a long way at this time. Having a three-man midfield, four if you include the attacking midfielder playing behind the strikers, might be a good option against Burnley so United can attack, attack, attack.

Jadon Sancho could be the wide player in the midfield, supplementing the attack and providing width when needed as United will not be able to play through the middle easily. The formation will change at times and it will be easy for United to revert to different formations to get the right measure. Nemanja Matic could play the defensive midfield role as United need some ability and confidence in this area. Scott McTominay could also play in the midfield as Fred was not the best against the Magpies with McTominay able to get forward, although he will need to start doing more with the ball to find goals or play in key passes.

Attacking Midfield: Donny van de Beek

With Bruno Fernandes suspended after accumulating five yellow cards so far this season, he will be suspended against Burnley. Donny van de Beek should start in his advanced position, feeding both Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani. The Dutchman has made just 12 appearances so far this season, playing 361 minutes of football and is yet to play a full 90 minutes in the Premier League. For a player of his calibre, he should be playing more football. However, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Michael Carrick and now Ralf Rangnick, he has not been played ahead of anyone else in the team, unless it was a match where rotation could happen.

It is expected that he will be seeking to leave United in January, unless he gets more minutes under his belt but at the same time, if he was offering anything good, he would be playing more minutes anyway. This is not an open and closed case that is he being purposefully looked over. There is a reason and it seems to be based on what he offers. He will need to work hard to find his feet at the club, if indeed he does want to stay – which is the main question here. That said, he has never moaned, has been respectful and will understand that he was not guaranteed anything at United. If he takes his chances and plays well – that’s all that matters for him.

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani

United have a great goalscorer in Cristiano Ronaldo but when he has not been getting the service, his frustration is clear to see. Edinson Cavani is another great forward who does a lot on the pitch – even if he is on the wrong side of 30 – he’s been doing better than other attacking players on the pitch since he arrived but his injury record is no the best. He was brought on at half time against the Magpies and scored the goal that saved some of United’s blushes seeing United come back from 1-0 down. Having both Ronaldo and Cavani start together up top could be good for United, as long as the service is there for them both.

Ronaldo is the clubs top scorer so far this season with 13 goals in all competitions and Cavani has scored his second goal so far. Ronaldo has two assists which gives the par of them 17 goal contributions – which is good for this stage of the season and will only get better. Last season, Cavani scored 17 goals and six assists in all competitions and match that would be good for him. Ronaldo scored 36 goals and four assists for Juventus and him coming close to that number would be great for United. There is a long way to go this season and United will be expected to look like they could win a trophy, or at least turn a corner that never seems to come.

Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Jesse Lingard, Fred; Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Elanga

Rangnick will be able to name nine players on the bench in the Premier League, using three of them throughout the match, unless there is a head injury, in which case another substitute could be used. I expect Dean Henderson to be on the bench again considering the form of De Gea, who is undroppable at this time. It has also been suggested that Eric Bailly has to return to England having left for the Ivory Coast as he could be needed in this match. Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could complete the defensive options on the bench for this match. Phil Jones was on the bench against Newcastle, but perhaps he’s not favoured at this time.

In the midfield, United could have just Jesse Lingard and Fred on the bench, which will minimise the options from the bench unless Rangnick drafts in some youth players like Charlie Savage. We shall have to see what is said ahead of the match on this – probably nothing. In attack, which is United’s strongest position this season, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga could all be available should anything need to be changed. Anthony Martial is still on the sidelines with a knee problem and could well be on his way out of the club if a suitable offer arrives for him – but it is said he will not be leaving on the cheap.

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.