United will look to bounce back from a shockingly poor defeat to Championship side Bristol City in the League Cup when they travel to the East Midlands to take on Claude Puel’s Leicester City side on Saturday evening (please note if you are going to this game, the kick-off has been moved back until 7.45pm GMT).
There has been the usual, expected outpouring of apoplectic rage, mirth and piss-taking from all & sundry on social media outlets since Wednesday evening, but in all honesty, and despite the manager’s post-match comments, Bristol City proved they are a very decent side and certainly wouldn’t have deserved to lose that tie on the basis of the balance of play. Some of our players let themselves, the Club and the fans down badly with substandard performances on the night, and when that happens a shock defeat is always a possibility, as we witnessed earlier this season at Huddersfield Town.
Quite honestly, a visit to the King Power Stadium is not the fixture you want if you are looking to bounce back quickly from a poor defeat, and Jose Mourinho will hopefully have reminded a few of our players that they get very well paid indeed to perform to the best of their considerable abilities when they pull on our shirt. I certainly expect to see a positive response to the League Cup defeat on Saturday. With league leaders Manchester City playing what looks to be a ‘home banker’ against Bournemouth, nothing less than a United victory over the Foxes is likely to be enough to keep our very faint hopes of a viable title challenge alive for another week.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – Our regular keeper was badly missed at Ashton Gate, where his deputy, Sergio Romero, went a long way to undermining any chance he had of being seriously considered as a long-term replacement for de Gea, should he move back to Spain next summer, with a very poor performance. His decision-making on set-pieces and crosses into the area was hugely suspect; his kicking was wayward and unnecessarily hurried. Jamie Vardy won’t find David de Gea nearly so unsure of himself.
RB: Ashley Young – I’m assuming that Tony Valencia will be unfit to return to action after the hamstring strain he sustained at West Brom. I’d draft Ashley Young into the right-back berth, where he has looked fine already this season. Again, Valencia’s some-time deputy, Matteo Darmian, endured a desperately poor evening at Bristol City, where he was exposed and beaten numerous times by both full-back Joe Bryan and winger Jamie Paterson. Personally, I’d look to move Darmian on either in January or next summer.
LB: Luke Shaw – Shaw was one of few United players to emerge from the League Cup defeat with some credit. I thought the young full-back played well whenever he was involved in the action, and looks close to peak fitness again. I’d certainly have no worries about letting him face up to the considerable challenge of keeping Riyad Mahrez quiet.
CBs: Chris Smalling & Phil Jones– with Eric Bailly out long-term, these two appear to me to be the most consistently solid partnership we possess for the centre-back roles right now. Phil Jones has been excellent for most of the season so far, and seems to bring the best out of Smalling too. Marcos Rojo is also back to fitness, but against the pace of Vardy I’d prefer to go with Jones and Smalling; Marcos can be rash in the tackle. Victor Lindelof played at Ashton Gate, and I’d rest him for this one.
CMs: Paul Pogba & Nemanja Matic – Paul Pogba, despite a somewhat careless performance by his high standards at Bristol City, is the best football player at the Club, and would start every game for me unless truly fatigued or injured; it’s great to have him available again. Matic got a deserved rest on Wednesday evening, and was badly missed as the Robins attacking players found many gaps to exploit on counter-attacks, gaps which Matic usually ‘fills’. They will need to work hard to wrestle control of the game from the likes of Andy King and Wilfried Ndidi.
RM: Juan Mata – the little man’s invention and vision were missed at Bristol City, and I’d bring him in on the right side for this game, where his work-rate will also be a benefit to the team.
AM (C): Jesse Lingard – Jesse sat out the League Cup defeat, and we missed his non-stop running and ability to slot the play together as time and time again United attacks foundered against a resolute Robins rearguard. Hopefully he can be a real thorn in the side for the Foxes defence. Henrikh Mkhitaryan came back into contention at Bristol City, and could also slot in here to good effect, especially now that Pogba is back in the side.
LM: Marcus Rashford – Marcus had a poor game by his standards on Wednesday, let down much too often by sloppy ball control and poor decisions. Having said that, Anthony Martial was even worse, having one of the poorest displays I can remember from him in a United shirt, and so I’d start with the young Englishman at the King Power Stadium, and hope he returns to the form he showed earlier in the season.
CF: Romelu Lukaku – one thing that was revealed at Ashton Gate is that Zlatan Ibrahimović, despite his heroics in making a full recovery from a terrible injury in record-breaking time, is far from ready to be starting games for Manchester United just yet; Lukaku is very much our main striker, and hopefully the big man gets a few opportunities to show his ‘non-celebration’ of goals again on Saturday evening. He was extremely unfortunate to see a great glancing header superbly saved by former United keeper Luke Steele on Wednesday evening with the score at 1-1; had that gone in, I’ve no doubt the result of the match would have finished in our favour.
BENCH: Romero, Martial, Rojo, McTominay, Herrera, Lindelof, Mkhitaryan.
As I’ve already alluded to, this is not the sort of game I’d pick to attempt to bounce back from a bad defeat in. Leicester City have rediscovered some good form of late, albeit their last Premier League outing ended in a surprise 0-3 defeat at home to Roy Hodgson’s rejuvenated Crystal Palace, when Wilfred Zaha destroyed them with his pace and trickery. Puel is a very canny coach, defensively sound, and I expect a very tough game, with the pace of Vardy, Mahrez, Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton a real danger to us on counter-attacks.
The manner of the Bristol City defeat was unacceptable, where four or five United players performed well below the level expected of men wearing our shirts, and I hope and expect to see a ‘backlash’ at Leicester, such that for the Foxes to triumph over us will take the performance of their season. A few players did themselves no favours the other night- they owe the fans and their manager a performance worthy of the money they earn for playing the game at this level.