United make a trip to the south-west this evening to face Bristol City in the Quarter-Final stage of the League Cup competition, in what should be an engrossing encounter. The Robins are currently flying high in the Championship, now 3rd after a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest last weekend (their eighth victory in their last ten games), and will be relishing the chance to take on Manchester United…though just what sort of side they will face remains to be seen, as I’m sure Jose Mourinho will ‘ring a few changes’ with a busy Christmas period coming up.
For our part, we come into the tie on the back of two Premier League wins over Bournemouth and West Brom, though neither victory was as convincing as it perhaps could and should have been. This is a trophy we won last season, and I’m sure the manager will be expecting a performance this evening good enough to carry us past our Championship opponents, but you can never be sure just how tough the challenge from a decent Championship side like City on their own pitch might be. Personally, I think Bristol City are potentially a huge ‘banana skin’ for United, and must be taken very seriously indeed, especially at Ashton Gate.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: Sergio Romero – our reserve keeper has shown himself to be as good as some Premier League clubs’ first choice keepers, and I have no problem selecting him for this game. David de Gea will be needed for tricky games against the likes of Leicester City, Burnley and Everton in the weeks ahead.
RB: Matteo Darmian – I would probably have started the Italian full-back anyway, but news of Antonio Valencia’s hamstring injury, sustained at The Hawthorns during the 2nd half of our 2-1 victory on Sunday, means this is now a definite, though young Axel Tuanzebe could deputise in this position too. I think Ashley Young will be rested for Saturday’s trip to the King Power Stadium.
LB: Luke Shaw- after getting his first Premier League start of the season against Bournemouth last Wednesday evening, and once again showing he is back close to full fitness, I’d let Shaw loose at Ashton Gate to show he is more than capable of getting the better of Championship-level players. I desperately hope that Luke can do enough to convince Mourinho to retain his services in the longer term, as I still believe it would be a tragedy to see the boy leave United.
CBs: Chris Smalling & Marcos Rojo– the Argentinean defender needs game-time to continue his recovery from the injury he suffered last season; he picked up a knock in the Derby debacle but should be fine to take on the Robins. Smalling has been very steady lately, and I’d let him play ahead of Phil Jones, who is much more injury-prone, and Victor Lindelof, who I’d bring in for several Premier League games now. City have a few pacy, tricky forwards like Bobby Reid and Jamie Paterson, so these two need to be on top of their games.
CMs: Scott McTominay & Ander Herrera– Paul Pogba is available for this game, but I’d be surprised to see Mourinho risk starting him with the hectic Premier League fixture pile-up we face in the next few weeks. I’d also hope he will give Nemanja Matic the rest he deserves after starting all our league fixtures this year to date, and so I’d give young McTominay another chance to show what he can do alongside Ander Herrera, who simply needs to improve his own performances. Bristol City have a few decent midfield operators, so these two will need to win their battles so we can establish control of the game.
RM: Jesse Lingard- Lingard grabbed a somewhat fortunate winning goal on Sunday to continue his impressive recent strike-rate from a midfield position. I’d give him a run out on the right side this evening, where his movement and vision will cause the Robins problems. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has completely dropped off the radar at United recently, may get a chance to ‘shop window’ himself this evening too at some stage, but I truly believe Henrikh’s time as a United player will not run beyond next summer.
AM (C): Juan Mata– Mata was integral in both our goals at West Brom, and he really should be a level above anyone the City players come up against in their league- his vision and touch will hopefully give the Robins defence a lot of bother this evening.
LM: Anthony Martial- Tony came on for a cameo at The Hawthorns, and I’d ‘let him loose’ on Bristol City, safe in the knowledge that City defenders Nathan Baker, Hordur Magnusson and Aden Flint won’t be thrilled to see him!
CF: Zlatan Ibrahimović– Romelu Lukaku could do with a rest after carrying the weight of our goalscoring expectations all season so far, and Zlatan will relish the cup-tie atmosphere at Ashton Gate, as well as the battle with the home defence. As ever, if we can keep the big man involved in the action, his quality will give Lee Johnson’s team plenty of problems to solve.
BENCH: J. Pereira, Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Tuanzebe, Pogba, Lindelof, Lukaku.
Whilst this is clearly a game we will be favourites to win, it will almost literally be treated as a ‘cup final’ by Lee Johnson and his players, and I’m sure the City faithful will pack out the old ground and make it a feisty, hostile atmosphere. That said, our lads are well used to having expectations thrust upon them, and we have more than enough quality to win through to the Semi-Final stage.
With a tricky trip to Leicester City coming up at the weekend, we could do with getting through this tie with no further injury concerns following Valencia’s hamstring strain last Sunday, and it would be lovely to see Zlatan getting his season started properly with a goal or two in Bristol. If needs be, we should have a few ‘big guns’ to wheel off the bench, but you’d hope we simply have too much class and ability for the Robins this evening, but they will certainly make it a battle.