United make a journey they haven’t made in league football for almost 47 years this Saturday as they traverse the Pennines to Yorkshire to meet Huddersfield Town, a famous old club enjoying Premier League life for the first time in their history this season.
Led by German manager David Wagner, the Terriers have made a very decent start to life in the top division, despite being many pundits’ favourites to get relegated back in August. However, that good start is beginning to look like a false dawn, as they have failed to score since winning a point at home to Leicester City in a 1-1 draw on 16th September, and were mauled 0-4 by a rampant Tottenham Hotspur side led by Harry Kane in their last home fixture at the end of last month.
United come into the game in very good form, straight off the back of a competent if somewhat dull 1-0 win in Lisbon over Portuguese giants Benfica. In domestic competition, United have 6 wins and 2 draws from their opening 8 Premier League fixtures, although last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Anfield was easily the least memorable game the Red Devils have featured in. Jose Mourinho’s options were limited in central midfield by injuries to Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini ahead of the Liverpool game, and he admitted afterwards that he feared ‘opening’ the game too much, with the home team having a man advantage in the middle of the park all afternoon.
To be honest I think the same problem will present itself this Saturday too. As far as I know, none of the injured absentees have recovered enough to be considered for selection at the Kirklees Stadium, and with that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – the Spanish lad had a quiet evening in Lisbon with nothing worthy to save all evening as the defence in front of him remained resolute throughout. He will, as ever, present a formidable barrier for the likes of Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre to overcome.
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony put in another reliable shift at Benfica, and the skipper will be expected to make van La Parra’s afternoon less than enjoyable whilst also getting forward to support our attacks himself.
LB: Ashley Young – Young has played well at left-back recently, and since he didn’t feature at Benfica, he should be rested ahead of this game, and his pace and ability on the ball should enable him to be a useful creative outlet on the left side.
CBs: Chris Smalling & Phil Jones– Smalling partnered new-boy Victor Lindelof on Wednesday evening in Portugal, and gave another assured display at centre-half, though it’s fair to say that he wasn’t overly stretched by the Benfica attackers; Jones wasn’t needed from the bench, and should surely be recovered from his recent knock. I expect them to dominate Mounie (who himself is doubtful with a heel injury) and Depoitre, neither of whom have much experience of facing tough Premier League defences yet.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Ander Herrera – both these lads are again here by ‘default’, with no other options currently available, though Matic would probably be the first name on my team-sheet right now anyway due to his consistently excellent performances. I would expect the big Serb to be the dominant player on the park once again, controlling the tempo of the game from his position in front of Smalling and Jones, whilst limiting the ability of Tom Ince and Aaron Mooy to be influential for the hosts. Ander Herrera, despite putting in his usual busy workload in recent games, has yet to sparkle in transitional play as he did last season, and I’d hope the little man would view this game as an opportunity to star in that role, as he is likely to be the one to lose out when Paul Pogba returns from his hamstring injury, which may be a matter of weeks now. Put simply, we need more creativity from Ander until Pogba is fit to return.
RM: Jesse Lingard– Jesse is a bundle of energy, and that’s what we’ll need to keep a hard-working side like Huddersfield from grasping control of the game. He has a great habit of making runs and finding space where you’d think there wasn’t any, and I have no doubt he will keep Scott Malone occupied all afternoon. His crossing ability is suspect, but I’d hope he’ll make up for that by becoming another target for balls coming in from the left side.
AM(C): Juan Mata – Mata missed out at Anfield last weekend, and I felt that we missed his vision and ability to play decisive passes forward during that tussle, despite Ashley Young putting in his usual hardworking effort to help Valencia stifle Coutinho and Moreno. I’d bring the little Spaniard back in for this game, and though he will need to help out when we don’t have possession, I think he has the ability to give Schindler and Jorgensen some headaches at the back for Huddersfield. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been very poor for the last few weeks, and looks very low on confidence; at this point, he doesn’t warrant anything more than a role from the bench. He, more than anyone else, is missing the presence of Pogba.
LM: Anthony Martial – I would actually pick Marcus Rashford for this position in this game, as I think he starts games better than Martial, but the young England star picked up a knock against Benfica and may be on the bench as a precaution. Martial suffered more than most from being essentially asked to become a wing-back at Anfield last Saturday, his natural attacking preferences stifled by the defensive approach adopted by Mourinho; this time, he should have a much more advanced position, as United will surely see a LOT more of the ball than they did on Merseyside. We need him to be at his menacing best, both as a creator and a finisher.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – A storm is coming….! Romelu has been very closely shackled during his last two games for the Red Devils, seeing almost no service whatsoever at Anfield and again having very few chances to shine in Lisbon…. I would expect that to come to an end in West Yorkshire – Christopher Schindler won’t enjoy his afternoon much. The big man is due a goal or three again, and hopefully he can take a few of the chances that come his way.
BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Blind, McTominay, Darmian, Lindelof.
This game is a chance for United to get back to winning ways in the Premier League after the unnerving experience of settling for a point at Liverpool and then having to watch title rivals Manchester City absolutely destroy Mark Hughes’ Stoke City with some scintillating football later in the day. Despite their reasonable start in their debut Premier League campaign, Huddersfield Town will be expected to be fighting to stave off a relegation battle for most of this season, and quite frankly anything less than victory for United would represent a poor return. The Terriers will be well organized and hard-working, but if we have any pretensions whatsoever of being crowned Champions next May, this has to be an away win. I expect that to be the result, but it will have to be grafted for.