Manchester United return to UEFA Champions League football on Wednesday evening as they welcome Italian side Atalanta to Old Trafford in the third match of the group stage this season. United have three points in the group this season and need another win after losing to Young Boys in the first match and beating Villarreal at the death in the second match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in poor form after not winning in the Premier League for the past month with their last win coming against Villarreal, which was a poor performance from United but they ended up getting all three points. Something needs to give for United – they must perform.
In their last match, United were beaten 4-2 by Leicester City in the Premier League. It was a poor performance for United, despite scoring the first goal of the game and equalising minutes after Leicester took the lead. But United capitulated and conceded two more goals before the end of the match, which resulted in their biggest defeat of the season and an end to their unbeaten away run, which broke Arsenal’s record which was set in 2004. The defeat meant that the negative fans on social media were rampant in their screaming for the manager to be sacked, which is all they want to happen. It makes you wonder if they are fans at all?
Previous meetings with Atalanta and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Atalanta are yet to meet in a competitive fixture, which is an unknown prospect for United and Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday’s clash at the Theatre of Dreams. United have played many Italian teams in Europe and at this time, where the club are winless in their last three matches, it could be a good time for the Italian side to take on the Red Devils. United will have had an extra day’s rest with no travel ahead of the match, but based on the form of the club, it means nothing at this time. United need to bounce back from their 4-2 defeat to Leicester City and get more points on the board in the Champions League this season.
Amad Diallo is the only player to have played for both Manchester United and Atalanta. The 19-year-old started out as a youth player at Boca Barco before moving to Atalanta in 2015, coming though to the first team in 2019. Amad played five times for Atalanta, scoring one goal before his £37 million transfer to Old Trafford was completed in January 2021, despite being agreed in the summer of 2020. The Ivorian international has represented his country seven times; four times at U23 level and three times at senior level. He was also part of the squad for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Fresh from injury, Amad could play a part against Atalanta.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League at the Old Trafford on Wednesday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea is in great form this season and has been one of the players who deserves to be praised for his performances, especially after what he endured last season. On Saturday, De Gea made a number of saves to keep United in the game but conceded four goals, which most of the time were caused by defensive errors, which is an area that United need to improve on significantly – if they want to achieve something this season. At this stage of the season, with the club on a poor run of results with big matches still to come, the real United much stand up and De Gea can be intrinsic to that. The pressure is on for United to start winning.
The experience of the Spaniard is impressive and it is clear that he wants to continue his career at the club, fighting for the big honours, which United have seemingly sat out of since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, despite an Emirates FA Cup win under Louis van Gaal, an EFL and Europa League Cup double under Jose Mourinho, not to mention the FA Community Shields won by David Moyes and Mourinho. United came close to a trophy last season, losing the Europa League on penalties, which De Gea played a part in, failing to save a single spot kick, or score his own, which signalled the end of the match with Villarreal winning the trophy.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw
The defence is still a problem area for United. Raphael Varane’s injury is going to cost United moving forward and Harry Maguire’s lack of fitness, not to mention his rustiness and error rate against Leicester City, which leaves United with a big problem – who to pick to face Atalanta. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be back in action after having his two-match suspension in the Champions League reduced to one, which makes him available on Wednesday. Luke Shaw should also keep his place, but may need to perform at a much higher level if United are to get three important points at the Theatre of Dreams.
With Varane out of action with a groin injury and Maguire lacking fitness, United have a choice of Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Teden Mengi for the central defence with Mengi likely playing for the U19’s in the UEFA Youth League against the Italian side. With this in mind, I think Lindelof and Bailly will be the central defensive option for Solskjaer, unless Maguire gains some fitness between now and Wednesday evening – which is a distinct possibility. United need to start defending in the same way as the United of old, as that is where the difference in winning and losing trophies come from – which worked for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, Marcus Rashford
The midfield is a major problem this season. It is suggested in the media that Solskjaer wanted another midfielder in the summer, as did the supporters and that did not happen. This is one of the reasons as to why the squad is not achieving. United have no real command of the midfield. Scott McTominay and Fred are the most likely midfield partnership, which is why United struggle as it does not tend to work all that well all of the time, if at all. United need a midfielder who can defend, keep the ball, win the ball and become that deep-lying playmaker. I don’t think many players at the club are capable of this.
I think United should revert to a traditional 4-4-2 formation, if only to test it out to see if it can change United’s fortunes. United need to find that way to play swashbuckling, entertaining football which is what these players are capable of. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford could play in the wide positions, when Mason Greenwood could play here too. In the middle, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek should be given a chance as you never know, it might work out. Bruno Fernandes has struggled when United have been behind, so a change could do some good. It is worth trying, but I don’t think it will be tried. I’m not sure the coaching can change.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani
United have a quality attacking line this season and it has not been used to its strength. Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani are both poachers who have an array of abilities in front of goal. Both can score some great goals with their feet or their heads. Cavani has proven this time and time again last season. Ronaldo have proved this during his career. Granted, Ronaldo does not press as much so this should be provided by other players on the pitch with Ronaldo and Cavani in the box waiting for the right balls to come in and them doing their best to get the goals that United will need to win matches.
The best form of defence is to attack and that is what this United squad should be good at doing. If Solskjaer can breed this mentality and find the right players to provide the pressing, which is something that Rashford, Sancho and Van de Beek should be capable of doing, then this could be crucial for United. The fact that Solskjaer’s side will face Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur before the end of the month and Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the Premier League before the end of November will mean that he needs to get things moving, otherwise the pressure he is under now could become so much more.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles; Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Nemanja Matic; Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood
United can name up to twelve substitutes on the bench in the Champions League, using up to five of them in the match. In the knockout stages, if United end up getting there, they can use an extra substitute if matches go to extra time. I fully expect Dean Henderson to be on the bench, as United will need to win this match and he will be quite rusty, even though he has played at U23 level. In defence, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles should all be available, so Solskjaer can make tactical changes, if needed. That also means he will need to change his tactics as the same things are tried against each team all the time.
In midfield, Paul Pogba should be benched after his dismal performance against Leicester, with Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic also available, should the midfield need more of a different approach at any point of the match, which will probably be the case. In attack, with Ronaldo and Cavani starting, Anthony Martial, if he has managed to recover his fitness after the international break and Mason Greenwood could be available to be called upon. I don’t expect Solskjaer to take these risks though, which is why abject failure seems to be on the horizon. Playing safe is great, when safe. But this is so much different.
Written by John Walker