Having won just one of their last five games in all competitions, Manchester United now face a tough test overseas in the form of Spanish outfit Villarreal, who themselves have struggled for form this season. The dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has created an unusual mood amongst the fanbase, with a sense of sadness and relief at the heart of it. Reds fans are keenly anticipating Michael Carrick’s team selection on Tuesday evening, with the three-time Champions League finalist now at the wheel as the club scramble around for an interim solution.
Will Carrick opt for a back five with Luke Shaw unavailable, or will it be continuity with ‘McFred’ in the middle of the park? It is worth noting that Carrick did say in his first ever press conference yesterday that himself and Solskjaer share similar footballing beliefs. Let’s see how United could look with Carrick at the wheel…
Goalkeeper and Defenders:
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The shot-stopping Spaniard has arguably been United’s best player this season and was superb in the Villarreal clash at Old Trafford earlier in the campaign. Dave’s selection needs no explanation.
Right-back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
In his third full season as a red, Wan-Bissaka seems to be struggling to find the stellar form that he possessed in his debut campaign. Nonetheless, he has remained the first choice of the coaching staff at Old Trafford ahead of Diogo Dalot, so it would be a shock to see him not feature. It is worth remembering that Dalot struggled in the game at Old Trafford, with Arnaut Danjuma causing him problems in behind. Wan-Bissaka seems a sensible selection.
Centre-back: Victor Lindelöf
The Sweden captain hardly covered himself in glory at the weekend when he showed a rather half-hearted attempt to block the strike that put Watford 3-1 ahead, but with Raphael Varane unavailable through injury, it seems inevitable that he starts at the Estadio El Madrigal. Lindelöf will be hoping to find some form ahead of the clash at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
As time goes on, it seems more and more evident that Harry Maguire is probably not a club captain at Manchester United. His celebration against Albania was a tad cringeworthy in the eyes of many, prompting heavy criticism from pundits around the country. However, many are quick to forget that the Yorkshireman has shown terrific form in a red shirt for spells over the last few seasons, and if he can build consistency, he is more than capable of being a United defender. Everyone has a clean slate when the new manager arrives, so fans should hope to see Maguire build up a good run of form in the next weeks with important games ahead.Embed from Getty Images
Harry was a favourite of Solskjaer’s, and with the ex-manager and Carrick having similar footballing outlooks, it makes sense that Maguire plays against Villarreal. The Englishman is unavailable at weekend following his clumsy red card at Vicarage Road, so there is an argument there to be had that Eric Bailly plays against Unai Emery’s side to build a relationship with Lindelöf, but logic doesn’t always have its way.
Left-back: Alex Telles
The former Porto man scored a delightful volley on matchday 2 and will be relishing the opportunity to play in Luke Shaw’s absence. Telles’ chances have come few and far between since arriving in the Summer of 2020, so the opportunity to start in Europe will be a welcome one. The Brazilian should be able to use his European understanding to the team’s advantage on Tuesday evening, and Cristiano Ronaldo will be excited by Telles’ ability to cross the ball and create chances.
Holding Midfield: Fred
Regardless of whether or not Solskjaer remained in a job after the Watford humbling, Fred was always destined to start this game. An unused substitute at the weekend, Fred will be feeling fresh and ready to go as the team travel across the continent. The Brazilian’s tenacity and aggression will be important to breaking up the play against the Yellow Submarine, so his selection ahead of Nemanja Matic, who was dismal on Saturday, is justified.
Central Midfield: Donny van de Beek
Your eyes do not deceive you. There is a fairly good chance that the 2019 Ballon d’Or nominee starts a game for Manchester United. Seems logical, right? All joking aside, fans and pundits alike have been left baffled by Solskjaer’s treatment of the Dutchman since his arrival from Ajax in a £35.1m transfer in the Summer of 2020, and many supporters are hoping that the next manager gives Donny a chance to shine on the biggest stage. Despite only playing 45 minutes against Claudio Ranieri’s side on Saturday, van de Beek was United’s best player by a country mile, so when looking at it from a footballing perspective, his selection needs no justification; Scott McTominay was poor against the Hornets, too. Moreover, similar to Fred, van de Beek’s European understanding is greater than that of McTominay’s, making him better suited to the opposition. Considering that Michael Carrick will probably want to be as popular with the fanbase as possible, picking van de Beek would do him no harm whatsoever.Embed from Getty Images
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
The Red Devils’ Portuguese Magnifico has looked a shadow of his former self in recent weeks, possibly down to a lack of spirit in the playing staff, or more probably the pragmatic tactics he has been instructed to operate under. Either way, Bruno has to step up his game now that the games are coming thick and fast. On a more positive note, the playmaker has registered 5 assists in just 4 Champions League games this season, an average of 1.25 per 90 minutes. His link-up play with international teammate Ronaldo has been a joy to watch when it has come off; it makes you wonder what the pair would achieve together in a team that play attacking football. His selection seems inevitable as he looks to register more goal involvements on Tuesday evening.
Left-wing: Marcus Rashford
Rashford looked sharp having come back from injury after bagging goals against Leicester, Atalanta and Tottenham, but like many of the players, he seems to be suffering from low morale and a lack of confidence in the last couple of matches. The Wythenshawe man will want to build on his Champions League goal tally and will want to sink the Yellow Submarine that beat United in the 2021 Europa League Final. Throughout Solskjaer’s tenure, the Englishman had been a favourite of the coaching staff, and with 75% of the managerial team still in a job, expect Marcus to start off the left-wing.
Right-wing: Jadon SanchoEmbed from Getty Images
With Mason Greenwood absent due to a positive Covid-19 test, Sancho will be relishing the chance to start back-to-back games for the club as he looks to register his first goal involvement since completing his £76.5m move in the Summer. Although 0 goal involvements is a damning statistic, Sancho has shown promise in his appearances so far. His ability to keep the ball in tight spaces is a major step-up from Daniel James, and his ability to cross the ball and create chances is better than Greenwood’s ability to do so. Sancho played a key role in van de Beek’s consolation strike at the weekend, and his link-up play with the Dutchman and Ronaldo was promising. Let’s hope he can build on that against El Submarino Amarillo.
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo
Like sand on a beach and butter on toast, some things in life go together seamlessly; Cristiano Ronaldo and the UEFA Champions League is a classic example. At 36 years of age, Ronaldo has registered 5 goals in 4 games in Europe this season, an average of 1.25 goals per game, in what has been an underwhelming United side at best. Whether it be the last-gasp strike to sink Villarreal at Old Trafford or the sublime equaliser in Bergamo at the Gewiss Stadium, Ronaldo’s goals have kept United’s head above the water in the Champions League, and Europa League football would have been a reality had it not been for his brilliance. One of the greatest to ever play the game, Cristiano’s presence needs no explanation on Tuesday evening. It is crazy to think that well-paid pundits are confidently saying on live UK television that United are worse off with Ronaldo in the side. Baffling.
Eric Bailly could find himself playing against Villarreal if Carrick opts to go for 5 at the back; he played tremendously against Duvan Zapata and Atalanta last time out in Europe and it would be a good opportunity for him to prepare for the game against Chelsea the weekend, with Maguire suspended. Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard should not be forgotten about either, as it is worth remembering that Carrick played with the pair for 3 seasons before hanging up the boots in 2018- perhaps there is a good relationship there? We will have to wait and see.