Manchester United will take on Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has managed his final match for the club as he was sacked following the 4-1 defeat to Watford which was a new low for the club. Michael Carrick will step into the shoes of Solskjaer for this match as the club looks to appoint an interim manager until the end of the season, which suggests another change could happen during the summer. United will need to get three points in the bag in this match to secure their knockout stage participation in the Champions League this season.
Whilst it is sad to see Solskjaer leave the job he loved, it was time for a change as it seemed clear that there were problems somewhere in the club at playing level, despite the fact there remains a problem with the ownership and the board of the club, who just don’t seem to want the club to achieve what the players and the supporters want the club to achieve. United need to continue building on the same plan that Solskjaer helped to define, returning the club to a position whereby they will be able to challenge for the big honours in domestic and European football. Thanks for everything, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Previous meetings with Villarreal and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Villarreal have met a total of six times in the history of both clubs with United winning once – the last match between the two teams. There have been four draws and one defeat with the first four matches played in the Champions League group stages with the last match played in the Europa League final. United won 2-1 in the meeting earlier this season, the first goals scored against them in the Champions League. Before that, in the Europa League final last season, it was a 1-1 draw after extra time with Villarreal winning 11-10 on penalties. If United can get a good result in this match, they will have a good change of getting out the group.
There is not much history between United and Villarreal as far as players are concerned. Eric Bailly is the only current United player who came to the club from the Spanish club in the summer of 2016 for €30 million. Since the transfer, Bailly has made a total of 107 appearances, scoring one goal and one assist. United were apparently interested in signing Pau Torres during the summer. Guiseppe Rossi was sold to Villarreal in the 2007/08 season and Diego Forlan arrived at the Spanish club in the 2004/05 season. Both players did well in Spain with Rossi scoring 82 goals in 181 appearances and Forlan scoring 58 goals in 121 appearances.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Villarreal in the UEFA Champions League at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Tuesday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
From my point of view, David De Gea has not had a poor season despite the number of goals conceded. He has shown some improvement in some areas, specifically saving penalties. The defeat to Watford could have been so much worse if he did not save that penalty. The Spanish goalkeeper does need to continue to improve though as he will be playing for his place in the team again, depending what happens with the vacant managerial position at the club, which will be immediately filled by Michael Carrick. That could change later this week because United take on Villarreal around 72 hours following the Watford match.
I would like to see De Gea change his game a little. Dean Henderson was a breath of fresh air last season with his different approach to goalkeeping but De Gea will not change his age as he has become who he is now. Henderson is inexperienced when it comes to playing for United but he could well be the new era in the goalkeeping position under a new manager. De Gea should command his back four like Henderson has, in particularly in a way that Peter Schmeichel did. United need some kind of leader at the back as the current captain has not been leading like the likes of Steve Bruce, Nemanja Matic and Gary Neville would have.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United have conceded 29 goals in all competitions this season, and at this early stage of the season it is unacceptable. To blame that on Solskjaer would not be right. United are much better with Raphael Varane in the centre of the defence, but with him enduring his second injury spell at the club, United are left with Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire. Phil Jones is not eligible to feature in the Champions League having not been named in the squad this season – that could change in January if he does not leave the club. Bailly was good in one match ch and terrible in the next, so he’s a wildcard options as you never know what you will get.
Against Villarreal, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Alex Telles should feature in the fullback positions with the former keeping his place from Saturday’s defeat to Watford and needing a positive performance, or it could be the beginning of the end for him at United as he just does not seem to be improving. Telles should play ahead of Luke Shaw, who suffered his second injury in successive matches, so will probably need some time to recover, especially with Chelsea on the horizon. In the centre of the defence, Lindelof and Maguire will keep their places, with Maguire suspended for the Chelsea match. He owes United a brilliant performance after Saturday.
Midfield: Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, Bruno Fernandes
United’s midfield needs some surgery as it is not as good as it should be, especially in the defensive midfield area. Nemanja Matic has been great but having a player with youth on his side who can put some steel into the midfield is needed and neither Scott McTominay or Fred have done that, so one of them, preferably the latter should be pushed out of the club because it has not worked. That said, United will keep him, give him a new contract and we will have this conversation in a few more years, talking about the same thing. Against Villarreal, Scott McTominay should play in the defensive area of the midfield.
Donny van de Beek proved on Saturday that he needed to play more often as he was the best player on the pitch, which was great to see. He looked determined and possibly was one of Solskjaer’s biggest regrets of his time managing the club. If he had played more, it might have worked out well for him. Bruno Fernandes should also feature in the 4-3-3 formation, providing some addition attacking play but also fortifying the midfield when United are under attack. A 4-3-3 formation seems to be the best with United’s midfield and attack at this time, but it all depends on what vision Carrick has for this match.
Forward: Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford
Saturday’s performance was not the best but if Cristiano Ronaldo wants to achieve something at United this season, he will need to start getting into the swing of things. Granted, United should not be relying on him but he wants to achieve so is it really reliance? He has scored nine goals and two assists in his time back at the club with him scoring five goals in the last four matches in the Champions League, it feels like he could score again on Tuesday evening in Spain. United have a good squad, at least on paper at this time and it will be up to Carrick, then whoever to get the best out of them for the remainder of the season.
Ronaldo is a Champion League player and with Edinson Cavani still suffering from tendon issues an Anthony Martial well out of form, he might have to lead the line again, which is something that won’t faze him. Marcus Rashford should feature on the left of the forward three, where he has excelled over the last few seasons under Solskajer, although he was switched on Saturday, which should not happen here. Jadon Sancho should start on the right, which is his favoured position and the one he was bought in to feature in – he had a good performance at times against Watford and perhaps this could be the start of his finding his feet properly.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson, Tom Heaton; Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic; Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani
Five substitutes are able to be used in the Champions League, which will be beneficial for United ahead of the Chelsea match on Sunday and United will benefit from a few extra hours rest with Chelsea playing on Tuesday evening in the 8pm kick off. Not that it will give the much of an advantage with the form that top of the league Chelsea are in right now. I would expect to see both Dean Henderson and Tom Heaton on the bench in the goalkeeper positions with De Gea keeping his place in the starting XI. That may change if Carrick feels that one of those should have the chance to push for De Gea’s number one position.
In defence, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw could be available should the defence need some switching, which you know will be the case. This team are not all of a sudden going to become a steel defensive side – that will take time. If it does happen, will anyone ask any questions of them? In the midfield, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Aad Diallo and Nemanja Matic should all be available. United will need a change in the midfield at some point in the match. In attack, Anthony Martial, who was not great when he came on against Watford and Edinson Cavani, if fit could be available. Maybe Anthony Elanga could fill in is Cavani is unavailable.
Written by John Walker