I’m The Boss: Manchester United vs. Derby County (F.A. Cup 3rd Round, 05-01-2018)

After finally securing a deserved victory at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day in the Premier League after three successive disappointing draws, United now turn their attention to the F.A. Cup competition this season as they welcome Championship side Derby County to Old Trafford for this evening’s 3rd Round tie (8.00pm kick-off).

The change in formation made by Jose Mourinho against Everton (which saw the side revert to a fluid system ostensibly based on 4-3-3, with Paul Pogba ‘released’ to play further forward than of late, with Ander Herrera partnering Nemanja Matic behind him) eventually paid handsome dividends, with the French midfield general instrumental in the build-up to both United goals, providing the clever pass from which stand-in striker Anthony Martial shot the Reds ahead with a well-taken finish as the hour-mark approached, and then finding Jesse Lingard, who brilliantly cut in from the left side onto his favoured right foot and curled a delightful shot past a helpless Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal. Indeed the home side’s keeper pulled off a number of quality saves throughout the game to keep Everton in contention for much longer than their efforts deserved.

With that result comes buoyed expectations as to what United can realistically still achieve this season. Yes, the Premier League title is gone now, but the F.A. Cup certainly represents a trophy United should be coveting, and so this evening’s game needs to be treated with as much concentration and effort as possible. Derby County are currently lying in 2nd position in the Championship with 49 points from 26 games played, 9 points behind runaway leaders Wolves, and therefore represent a significant threat to our ambitions if we are in any way lackadaisical in our preparation for the game.

Rams boss Gary Rowett watched his side draw 1-1 with fellow promotion hopefuls Sheffield United on Monday, with such familiar names as former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Tom Huddlestone and former Aston Villa striker Andreas Weimann in his line-up. Whilst Derby County know they will be underdogs this evening, this game represents a ‘free hit’ from their point of view, and I’m sure Rowett will have them motivated to put on a good display for their travelling fans.

With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (very fluid 4-2-3-1)

GK: David de Gea – David had little to do at Goodison Park, with his defenders snuffing out nearly everything Everton had to offer as an attacking force. Let’s hope he is similarly untroubled this evening!

RB: Victor Lindelof – assuming that Antonio Valencia remains on the injured list with his hamstring problem, and with Ashley Young serving the second of a three-match ban for elbowing Southampton’s Dusan Tadic on 30th December, Lindelof remains the outstanding candidate for the right-back shirt, a role he performed well at Everton. Whilst it’s not his preferred position, he represents a better option than Matteo Darmian.

LB: Luke Shaw – Shaw put in another top-notch performance at Everton, getting forward to great effect to link the play up on the left side, and almost got an assist for Anthony Martial. I’m hopeful that Luke’s recent form will see him remain in the side for the foreseeable future and perhaps finally ‘put paid’ to rumours of his departing the Club this year.

CBs: Marcos Rojo & Phil Jones – Eric Bailly remains out longer-term, and with Chris Smalling’s fitness status still in ‘recovery’ mode, I expect Jose to name an unchanged backline, which will see these two hopefully put in their second solid performance of the week. Rojo, in particular, was superb against the Toffees, including making a vital last-ditch blocking tackle on Oumar Niasse as he was about to give Everton the lead during a 1st half counter-attack.

DMs: Ander Herrera & Nemanja Matic – both players got through a ton of work at Goodison, creating the base from which our attacking players built a winning display in the 2nd half, and I expect Mourinho to name them again in similar roles; Herrera’s presence allows Paul Pogba to venture further forward, playing almost as another attacking midfielder alongside Jesse Lingard.

RM: Juan Mata – the little man was involved throughout against Everton, his clever movement giving their defence all sorts of headaches, and I’d expect more of the same against the Rams. Juan was hugely unlucky to see a wonderful left-foot drive from distance early in the 2nd half cannon back off Pickford’s far post, the young England keeper totally beaten by the ferocity of the strike.

AM (C): Paul Pogba – Paul was simply majestic at Goodison Park, released from his defensive duties to cause havoc in front of the Everton defence, including grabbing assists for Martial and Lingard, and curling a ferocious left-footed strike just wide of Pickford’s far post in the opening period. He continued in that vein in the 2nd half, forcing Pickford into a stinging reactionary two-handed block from a fierce right-footed drive minutes after Martial had given United the lead. I expect Derby County to dread the sight of him this evening….

LM: Jesse Lingard – the young man capped a wonderful, all-action performance with a fantastic goal to seal the victory over Sam Allardyce’s men on Monday, the shot coming at the end of a fabulous run in which Jesse left the Toffees’ former United and Burnley defender Michael Keane looking like a schoolboy. There is a chance he may be rested to give Marcus Rashford a start this evening, but I’d let him loose to create mayhem for the Rams defence…

CF: Anthony Martial – he may not be anything like Romelu Lukaku in style, or finishing statistics, but Tony showed he is more than just a player full of ‘pace and fancy flicks’ with a sublime finish to give United the lead at Everton, and when his confidence is ‘up’ he must be a nightmare to keep quiet in a game! The Derby centre-backs will probably try to kick him, but they need to catch up to him first…good luck with that one, lads. Lukaku himself is apparently fit enough to be considered for this game, but I’d keep him benched unless we need him…let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Smalling, Blind, Lukaku, McTominay, Mkhitaryan.

Let’s be honest: if United approach this game in the serious manner they should do, it will take a phenomenal display from Derby County to stop us winning the game in normal time. Whilst they may be doing very well in the Championship, the leap in quality to facing a top Premier League team at their own ground should prove difficult for the Rams players to match. The warning for United came last month in the form of the very poor defeat to Bristol City in the League Cup, and you’d hope Jose Mourinho will ensure that lightning most definitely does not ‘strike twice’ to a Championship club in such a short period of time.

The whole mood around the Club was lifted by the manner of the deserved win at Goodison Park on Monday evening, and with the Premier League title and League Cup already out of reach, and the European Cup likely to prove too difficult for this United squad to hope to win yet, the F.A. Cup easily represents United’s best hope of silverware this season – anything less than the enthusiasm and application required to see off Derby County at Old Trafford tonight will be inexcusable from our lot. Home win, please.