Following a dismal display on Wednesday, when a heavily rotated Manchester United side exited the Carabao Cup in the 3rd round after a 1-0 loss against West Ham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is expected to return the personnel back to normal in a quest to take maximum points in the Premier League against Aston Villa.
Although the result was not what the Norwegian boss would have hoped for in midweek, Solskjaer will have been happy to see a few members of the wider squad looking sharp and, ultimately, putting in performances that were worthy of being on the winning team.
The question is -Did those who played well do enough to dislodge the first-team regulars?
Here is the predicted lineup for United’s clash with Aston Villa on Saturday (kicking off at 12:30) in the usual assumed 4-2-3-1 formation.
Goalkeeper and Defence
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Following standout saves in away games at Southampton, Wolves and West Ham, it is fair to say that De Gea has saved Manchester United a large number of points in the opening games of the season. Despite Dean Henderson being one of the better performers in midweek, it would be illogical to bench United’s long-serving Spaniard, who many claim is back to his best form in recent times. It is likely inevitable that one of the two goalkeepers departs for regular football in the future, but as of today, it is De Gea who has that Premier League spot on lockdown.
Right-Back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
After seeing himself sent off in Bern in a 2-1 defeat to Young Boys in the Champions League, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is almost a certain starter in the Premier League against Aston Villa, with Diogo Dalot expected to fill the vacated position in Europe. Dalot put in a solid performance in the cup defeat to West Ham and there is a credible argument to say he should start against the West-Midlands outfit at the weekend, but Wan-Bissaka has featured in 74 out of a possible 81 games in the league since his arrival in the Summer of 2019, and it is expected he will make his 75th league appearance in red and white colours on Saturday.
Centre-Back: Raphael Varane
Solskjaer’s selection of the World Cup winning Frenchman needs no justification. Victor Lindelöf didn’t do an awful lot wrong in his appearance on Wednesday, but in his short time in a United shirt, Raphael Varane seems to have elevated the team immensely. It has taken either a dodgy deflection or a flawless breakaway in the Premier League to get the ball in David De Gea’s net since he slotted into the defence, and he should be in the side against Villa.Embed from Getty Images
Centre-Back: Harry Maguire
Only an injury would ever keep the world’s most expensive defender out of the starting team in the league during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign. Harry Maguire has proved to be the Norwegian’s main man in the defence in the manager’s tenure and that will surely be no different this Saturday. Maguire should be feeling fresh and ready after sitting out in midweek and will be looking to earn a 2nd clean sheet of the season in front of the Old Trafford faithful.
Left-Back: Luke Shaw
Following an underwhelming return from injury in the Carabao Cup, Alex Telles will have little to complain about when Luke Shaw inevitably returns to the starting XI in the league. Telles looked weak defensively and ineffective going forward in the final third, which is quite the opposite of Luke Shaw, who is already linking up with Cristiano Ronaldo seamlessly. The Englishman had the best season of his career last campaign and will want to put in another solid performance this weekend.
Holding Midfield: Fred
A name that has become a bitter one to say for Reds fans, Fred looks more than likely to return the team sheet for United’s 6th league match of the 2021/22 campaign. Fred’s sublime period of good form in the first few months of 2020 seems like a thousand years ago after his consistently poor performances in the last few games, where he has looked nothing short of lost. Nemanja Matic proved again in midweek that he is simply the best-equipped holding midfielder that Solskjaer has at his disposal, but the fact that Fred didn’t feature in the cup tie suggests he will be the one to play in the middle of the park in front of 75,000 this Saturday.Embed from Getty Images
Central Midfield: Scott McTominay
Following a period out of action through injury, something that seems to be happening more and more nowadays as he approaches his prime years, Scott McTominay was thrust back into the limelight last weekend against West Ham in a more box-to-box style role, in the sense that he had more license to get forward and join the attacking play. The fact he wasn’t gradually phased back into action proves that Ole has immense faith in the Scotland international, and it can be expected that he starts again this weekend. Donny van de Beek played well in his monthly cameo in the box-to-box role last time out, but the chances of him starting back-to-back games are minimal.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United’s Portuguese Magnifico seems to have found his best form again in the opening stages of the campaign following a much-needed break over the Summer, after Portugal crashed out of the Euros in the round of 16. Many United fans will tell you that he was probably overplayed in the final stretch of last season, burning out physically as a result, yet Bruno has shown his quality from the get-go in the Premier League this season; his linkup play with Ronaldo is a joy to watch, and following a disappointing performance from both Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in his absence, it is a no-brainer that he returns to the team as soon as possible.
Left-Wing: Paul Pogba
After collecting an impressive 7 assists in his opening 5 games of the campaign, Paul Pogba is a must-start for the majority of United fans. Whether or not the former Juventus man has a future out on the wing is a discussion worth having, but until Marcus Rashford returns from his shoulder injury, Pogba will likely feature in that spot to aid chance creation for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Frenchman, who is out of contract in the Summer of 2022, will be chasing that assist record belonging to Thierry Henry and will definitely be looking to get a couple on the board against an under-performing Villa backline.
Right Wing: Mason Greenwood
After less than 60 seconds of being under the lights at Old Trafford in Wednesday’s cup tie, Mason Greenwood proved why he is worthy of his ‘star boy’ title; he was a proper shot connection away from making it 1-1 following his introduction from the substitute’s bench. He was probably a man-of-the-match contender, despite having far fewer minutes on the pitch than English counterparts Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard. Still only 19 years of age, Greenwood has a unique ability of being able to influence games from literally nothing, as seen in the 1-0 victory at Molineux a matter of weeks ago. His selection this Saturday speaks for itself, as his form is levels ahead of any other right-wing contender at this time.Embed from Getty Images
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
Anthony Martial looks like he is playing on borrowed time in a United shirt. Speaking as someone who heard him being slated throughout the 90 minutes in the Stretford End against West Ham, it seems like he ought to move on in January before things turn toxic, with his chances to feature looking even less now. Edison Cavani is back in training, with Solskjaer saying “we’re glad to now have him back training with us and in the squad”, but it is set in stone that Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the side this weekend. After 4 goals in 3 games, the all-time top scorer in men’s football will be looking to improve that ratio against Emiliano Martinez in the Villa goal. The Portuguese superstar has scored more goals against Aston Villa than any other English side; let’s hope he continues his fine form nearly 15 years later!
Jadon Sancho could potentially feature in a bid from Solskjaer to help the winger get his first goal and increase confidence. It is not out of the question that Lingard gets another game as the manager looks to try and convince him to sign a contract. As ever during this manager’s tenure, however, it is truly difficult to call what team he will go with.