Manchester United return to Premier League action on Tuesday where they will welcome Nottingham Forest to the Theatre of Dreams. It will be the second match for United following the completion of the World Cup just over a week ago. United and Forest both returned to action in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup last week with United beating Burnley 2-0 and Forest beating Blackburn Rovers 4-1. United face Charlton Athletic and Forest face Wolves in the quarter finals.
After Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Brentford on Boxing Day, United will have a good chance of cementing their chances of breaking into the top four with Spurs sitting four points clear of them with United having two matches in hand. A victory over Forest with turn that into a one point lead for Spurs with United looking likely of breaking into the top four. However, they will need to keep an eye on Newcastle United, Liverpool. Brighton and Hove Albion and even Chelsea.
Erik ten Hag’s side may just have a full squad available for the clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux on New Year’s Eve but that would depend on Lisandro Martinez returning from Argentina fit and ready to play, which may not be the case. Providing he is injury free, he could well be on the bench for that match. United need to be ending 2022 on a high with two victories, should see them break into the top four – but Spurs face Villa on New Year’s Day.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-3-3
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw;
Fernandes, Casemiro, Eriksen;
Rashford, Martial, Garnacho
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has not played since the 2-1 victory over Fulham prior to the FIFA World Cup. He was on the bench as United beat Burnley 2-0 in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup and saw all three errors made by Martin Dubravka, which will have given him the confidence that his number one place is safe at United, at least for now. With his contract running out this summer, despite a one-year extension available, his wages being as high as they are will be a problem.
Rumours suggest that lowering his wages and giving him a new contract for a period of two years – or somewhere around that mark would be likely. The wage he’s on is a problem for United, especially give the fact that the club could be sold for a massive price providing the Glazer’s get their own way – which seems likely considering their greed. United could also venture into new territory and seek a new goalkeeper – something they last faced 11 years ago.
Ten Hag will know what he needs and for the long term, it might not be De Gea. Only time will tell that and unless De Gea signs a new contract before the end of the season, it would seem likely that this stance would continue into the summer. De Gea has given the club the best years of his career and we will all be thankful of that. Granted, the success craved has not arrived but that is not solely down to him but has a lot to do with greed and the Glazer’s.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw
Aaron Wan-Bissaka played well against Burnley and could keep his place in the right-back position against Forest. The assist for Christian Eriksen’s opener was precise and something he knew he could do but failed so many times. With he departure expected during the January transfer window, or more likely in the summer, it could be that he features more with Diogo Dalot on the sidelines following the World Cup. It could be good for the England defender.
Luke Shaw did not start against Burnley but finished the match on the pitch following England’s endeavours in the World Cup and he will be seeking to find his form post-international football to try and place United in the top four this season, which is where they much finish or falter even more. Shaw is probably the best left-back at the club by Tyrell Malacia has the right ingredients to become a star in Ten Hag’s team in the not too distant future.
In the centre of the defence, with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane likely to be absent for this match and more likely to feature against Wolverhampton Wanderers on New Year’s Eve, the fitness of Harry Maguire, who missed the Burnley match through illness will be something United will be sweating on. He will likely partner Victor Lindelof for this match, but if that does not happen, Casemiro could be in the defensive line once again.
Midfield Trio: Fernandes, Casemiro, Eriksen
Against Burnley, Ten Hag changed the formation of his team into a 4-3-3 formation, which will work well post-Cristiano Ronaldo as the squad will be able to play to their pace, not slow down to accommodate the veteran superstar. Casemiro will be the standout player at the moment as he could either play in the middle of the three-man midfield or in defence if Maguire is not fit enough to start against Forest – finger’s crossed that he is ready too return.
Bruno Fernandes was one of the key players in the victory over Burnley, playing the ball that turned into Wan-Bissaka’s assist for Eriksen in the first half of the match. Fernandes has not had the greatest season for United but there was a feeling that he was a bit stifled by Ronaldo, which could be a thing of the past now. He should inspire himself to finding the form he arrived at the Theatre of Dreams in during January 2020, inspiring United to a strong finish, post-lockdown.
Christian Eriksen is also a key player for United this season with his two goals and six assists, he has become a standout player in his own regard this season – and he came to the Old Trafford club on a free transfer. What a signing he has become. United would be a different team without him. Granted, he cannot play in every match but there is time for him to be rotated as he will be fresh, even despite playing in the World Cup for Denmark – which was a big occasion for him.
Attacking Trio: Rashford, Martial, Garnacho
United need to find their feet in attack to really hit home this season. United have scored 36 goals in all competitions this season, which is not really a great achievement but has been good to watch – at times. United will need to start scoring more goals in order to reach their accolades and that will not only be achieved by coaching these players to become winners – new signings will need to be made, which is why new investment in the club is needed.
Marcus Rashford started on the right for United against Burnley and for me, that needs to happen again as he was an inspiring player in the match, scoring United’s second goal in the second half with gave them a cushion over Burnley. Antony came on late in the game and him being a sub is needed right now, even despite United’s attacking woes. Alejandro Garnacho should keep his place on the left as he has been playing well and it will only be a matter of time before he scores again.
Anthony Martial should play through the middle. He has four goals and two assists so far this season despite playing just 364 minutes of football. His injury record is not the best but as long as he is fit, he should be starting for United. The form he showed in pre-season and during the start of the season shows what he is capable of – he just needs to raise his game and inspire his teammates into performing and winning, which is what United need to be doing.
Substitutes: Dubravka; Malacia, Williams; Fred, Pellistri, van de Beek, McTominay; Antony, Elanga
United can name nine substitutes on the bench against Forest but they look certain to be short of attacking players with Jadon Sancho still out of action and the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo prior to the World Cup. January should see at least one new attacking player brought to the club but it remains to be seen whether that will happen or not – knowing the Glazers, not being the optimum word here. United will need additions to achieve the minimum this season – a top four finish.
Martin Dubravka is likely to lose his place after his performance against Burnley and those three errors that could have resulted in goals scored against him. United could be light in the defence with Tyrell Malacia and Brandon Williams likely to be available. It seems like both Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane could be missing this match, which could be a blow for United. Having Harry Maguire back from illness could be important for Ten Hag.
In the midfield, United could have Fred, Facundo Pellistri, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay all fit and raring to go. It will be important for United to bring on some fresh legs in the second half to push for or even secure the win. In attack, both Antony and Anthony Elanga could be it for United with few experienced attacking players available for this match. This looks set to continue into 2023 with Sancho out of action – a new signing would be good in January.
Written by John Walker