United are on the road again tonight as they travel to South Wales to meet Swansea City in the League Cup competition, which to be honest is, in my opinion, an unwelcome distraction from the Premier League campaign and yet more potential for us to suffer further injury problems ahead of the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon (a game that has taken on even more significance after the debacle in Huddersfield at the weekend).
Basically, everything that could have gone wrong on Saturday did so, with a lax attitude among many of the visiting players combining to disastrous effect with a spirit of resolute determination from the Huddersfield Town lads to give the Terriers a deserved victory, their first over United since 1952. It was a turgid performance on an awful day, with only Marcus Rashford emerging with any credit, and leaves United in trouble, perhaps an ironic thing to say with the team lying second in the league table. However, the form and results being achieved by our wealthy cross-town rivals means we no longer have much room for slip-ups if we hope to be genuine title contenders beyond Halloween this season. Combined with a horrendous injury list (made worse with the knee ligament injury suffered by in-form Phil Jones during the opening half at Huddersfield), this Saturday’s game with a rampant Tottenham side is almost a ‘must win’ one for United already….
Just how much ‘value’ the manager puts in this League Cup competition this season is open to question, despite his assertion that it matters as much to him as any other (which, to be fair, has been borne out by his winning the trophy on numerous occasions with both Chelsea and United). Personally, as the injuries continue to mount at Old Trafford and Manchester City threaten to disappear over the horizon at the Premier League summit, I’d be inclined to use this cup tie as an opportunity to give out-of-form, ‘rusty’ and fringe squad players a competitive run-out, and hope they have enough to win through against a Swans side that have looked less than competent themselves this season.
To be honest I think Jose Mourinho will field a reasonably strong team, both as we could do with a morale-boosting performance ahead of the lunchtime showdown with Mauricio Pochettino’s men and because in reality he has very few fit options available to allow him to ‘switch things around’. With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: Sergio Romero – the Argentine is a steady, reliable deputy to David de Gea, who took a knock at Huddersfield and could do with a rest ahead of the big game against Tottenham on Saturday.
RB: Matteo Darmian – the Italian, for me, is a right-back only, and could do with some game time in case we need to call on him for Premier League or Champions League duty in the weeks ahead. He is defensively sound and can be relied on not to let anyone down in this position. Antonio Valencia needs to be ready for Tottenham on Saturday.
LB: Daley Blind – Blind, likewise, is a reliable option at left-back, a real ‘Steady Eddie’, and isn’t bad coming forward either. He has recently lost his place to Ashley Young, but I expect Young to feature against Tottenham, and I’d rest the Englishman for this game. Luke Shaw is also another option, and a player who has much to prove if he wishes to remain at Old Trafford beyond this season.
CBs: Chris Smalling & Victor Lindelof– in reality, we have little or no other options in this position; yes, we could draft in Axel Tuanzebe, but I think there is a very good chance that Smalling and Lindelof will HAVE to play against Harry Kane and company on Saturday, and they could therefore use a bit of time together out on the pitch to try to forge some sort of partnership ahead of that test.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Scott McTominay – Matic was one of few not to have a terrible game at Huddersfield, and normally I’d be happy to rest him for this game, but with our current injury crisis I’m not sure who else we have to come in; alongside him, McTominay deserves a chance to establish himself as a 1st team player, and I’d bring him in, both to see what he can do against Premier League opposition and to give Ander Herrera a breather ahead of Saturday’s game.
RM: Jesse Lingard– Jesse had a poor game at the weekend, and along with a few others owes us a performance; I’d hope he is itching to get out onto the park and show that he’s better than he looked in West Yorkshire….
AM(C): Juan Mata – Mata made an uncharacteristic mistake in possession, allowing Aaron Mooy to rob him in a bad position, which led to Huddersfield’s opening goal on Saturday. Again, like Lingard, I’m sure the little Spaniard is anxious to get a chance to rectify that poor display; injuries and the poor form of Mkhitaryan would see me giving that chance to him this evening.
LM: Anthony Martial – I would actually pick Marcus Rashford for this position in this game if we didn’t have such an important fixture in the Premier League coming up this weekend, but Martial didn’t do himself justice at the John Smith’s Stadium and, like Mata, should be hurting to get a chance to prove it was a ‘blip’. Equally, Angel Gomes is an option, but with the other enforced selections elsewhere, I feel that pushing the talented young English winger into a team struggling for confidence is putting unfair pressure on him to do well. He is certainly a useful option on the bench, though.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – Picked with trepidation. In reality, we have no-one else available until Zlatan Ibrahimović completes his rehabilitation from his knee injury sustained last season against Anderlecht, but the thought of Lukaku picking up an injury right now fills me with dread. The big man has been starved of decent service for the last two weeks and will certainly be a handful for Alfie Mawson and Federico Fernandez… we could do with him scoring a few here and emerging unscathed and ready to face Tottenham.
BENCH: Pereira, Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Tuanzebe, Gomes, Herrera, Shaw.
This game is a chance for United to get the nightmare performance at Huddersfield Town out of their system, and progress to the next round of a competition we won last season, but as ever it won’t be in any way straightforward, especially away from home. To be honest, much might depend on Swansea boss Paul Clement’s attitude towards this competition, too. If he fields a weakened team, given their poor result against Leicester City at the weekend, and with their upcoming Premier League fixtures in mind, I would hope and expect a United team like that named above to have too much quality for them over 90 minutes. Ahead of the difficult Tottenham game, we could do with a good performance, irrespective of the result, to be honest – this United team hasn’t really played well since we demolished CSKA Moscow in Russia last month.