Manchester United return to action in the Emirates FA Cup on Friday evening, welcoming Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough to Old Trafford in the fourth round of the competition. United beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the third round with Boro beating Mansfield Town 3-2.
United have not played for almost a fortnight, beating West Ham United 1-0 in their last match which was played on the 22 January whereas Boro last played on the 29 January, beating Coventry City 1-0 in the Championship. This will be a tough match for both teams.
United’s season has not been the best, seeing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management career end at the club back in November 2021 and Michael Carrick stepping in for three matches before ultimately leaving the club as Ralf Rangnick was announced as the interim manager.
It was expected that United would have used the January transfer window to strengthen the squad, instead three first team players ended up leaving the club on loan with Anthony Martial heading to Sevilla, Donny van de Beek heading to Everton and Amad Diallo heading to Rangers.
Previous meetings with Middlesbrough and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Middlesbrough have met 126 times in competitive competition. United have won 64 times, drawing 28 times and losing 34 times. A total of 14 matches have been played in the FA Cup with United winning seven, drawing four and losing three times.
United have scored 24 goals in these matches with Boro scoring 13. The last defeat in the FA Cup against Boro came on the 26 January 2002, with the last defeat against them on the 28 October 2015, losing 3-0 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the fourth round of the League Cup.
Clayton Blackmore, Ritchie De Laet, Fabio da Silva, Mark Wilson, Victor Valdes, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Jonathan Greening, Gary Walsh, Peter Davenport and Viv Anderson have all played for both United and Middlesbrough.
Currently, Paddy McNair is the only former United player currently playing for Boro and this will be the first time he has faced his former club. McNair, 26 left United in the summer of 2016 with Donald Love for £5.5 million then signed for Boro two years later for a fee that could reach £5 million.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Middlesbrough in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford on Friday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has been named the Manchester United Player of the Month for January and was also nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award, which shows that he has been doing the right thing, even if United have stagnated and suffered.
The Spanish goalkeeper is returning to form but still needs a regimented defence ahead of him, which will help him become the difference between United meeting minimum objectives during a season and winning silverware, which is something United have not achieved for almost five years.
De Gea has been putting in the saves for United and granted, he can still raise his game across all attributes of a goalkeeper, but in terms of what is needed at the club, he is doing just fine. In the future there will be others with Dean Henderson seeking a chance in goal this season.
Defenders: Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw
The defence is an area that requires much improvement this season and having a settled back four is the starting point of it becoming settled. United’s captain, Harry Maguire has had some bad performances this season and improvement is needed urgently.
Against Middlesbrough, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw should play in the fullback roles, although Alex Telles has done well when called upon this season. I feel Shaw will need the minutes to improve his form. United face Burnley on Tuesday evening, so having rotation would be good.
As for the central defenders, after remaining at the club after deadline day, Phil Jones needs more minutes under his belt. He’s too good for the bench and has the mentality to succeed after his knee injuries. Him playing alongside Raphael Varane would be good to see.
Midfield Three: Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes
As the 4-2-2-2 formation has not worked for United, reverting to a 4-3-3 formation, which can be changed based on attacking or defending, is best for United. With the fact Donny van de Beek left on deadline day on loan with Everton, United will have youth to turn to this season.
I feel that Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes should start against Boro with the trio running the midfield and when United are on the attack, two number eights; Pogba and Fernandes, would work better, especially with creativity, to feed the attacking players.
Obviously, United’s midfield is much weaker but having youth in reserve is a good thing both for the club and the players. United have the rest of this season to implement something for the future as there will be some major changes in the summer under a new manager.
Forwards: Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford
The attack is something that has also been weakened for United, but in a actual fact, at the start of the season, it was an overstocked area with many players not getting many minutes on the pitch. I believe Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the line, as he is the top scorer for the club this season.
Flanking him, Jadon Sancho (right) and Marcus Rashford (left) could add something to the attack. Rashford scored the only goal of the game, a late one against West Ham United in the last match United played before the Premier League winter break.
Sancho has yet to feature after having some personal time away, and he will be up for getting his career restarted as he will have a great opportunity to play on the right side of the attack, which is his chosen position. Anthony Elanga could reinforce United’s attack this season.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Harry Maguire, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; Juan Mata, Fred, Nemanja Matic, Hannibal Mejbri; Anthony Elanga
United will need to get their substitutions right in this match. Middlesbrough will be up for this challenge and they will want to succeed, especially at Old Trafford. Rangnick will need to ensure his starting players can do what is needed, with the subs offering more later in the match.
I would expect to see Dean Henderson on the bench, but he will need some chances to show what he has in his locker this season. In defence, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka could all be on the bench in this match, which will boost the defence.
Juan Mata, Fred, Nemanja Matic and Hannibal Mejbri should be available in the midfield and attacking midfield options, which could give Rangnick some options. I would like to see more youth players involved though. Anthony Elanga could be the only attacker on the bench though.
Written by John Walker