Having kicked off 2018 in the best possible way, with a solid 2-0 victory away to Everton on New Year’s Day, Manchester United must now turn their attention to a potentially tricky FA Cup Third Round clash when they welcome Derby County to Old Trafford on Friday night. United put in a much-improved performance at Goodison Park on Monday evening to ensure they left Merseyside with all three points but will be wary of the threat posed by the Rams, who are pushing hard for promotion back to the Premier League and currently sit in second place in the Championship standings.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, United boss Jose Mourinho confirmed that summer signing Romelu Lukaku, who missed the trip to former employers Everton, will once again be available to lead the line having recovered from a head injury. The Belgium international, who has found the back of the net 15 times this season, could possibly be handed a place in the starting XI, especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled out for a month with a knee injury.
At the other end of the field, first-choice goalkeeper David de Gea will be handed a well-earned rest, Mourinho revealed, with Sergio Romero taking his place in between the sticks for the first time since the shock Carabao Cup defeat to Bristol City, last month. In front of the Argentina international, meanwhile, left-back Ashley Young will once again be unavailable as he serves the second of a three-match ban handed to him for violent conduct, whilst the returning Chris Smalling could be included in the starting line-up. It will be interesting to see whether Mourinho opts to hand a starting berth to promising defender Axel Tuanzebe, who made his first league appearance of the season during the closing stages of Monday’s victory.
Following such a hectic festive period, Nemanja Matic could be rested, with Scott McTominay, who has impressed whenever called upon this season, taking his place in the middle of the park. Marouane Fellaini, who has not featured for United since the end of November due to injury, is available for selection and could make an appearance off the bench, whilst Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia are back in first-team training.
United will come up against a Derby side that last suffered defeat towards the end of November but were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Sheffield United on New Year’s Day, leaving them 12 points behind league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers. Nonetheless, the Rams, led by manager Gary Rowett will be full of confidence going into Friday night’s clash as they look to prove they are capable of holding their own against sides from the top flight. United will have to keep a close eye on Derby key man Matej Vydra who has 15 goals and three assists to his name and will be looking to add to that tally at Old Trafford.
With hopes of a 21st Premier League title fading with each matchday, success on other fronts will be of utmost importance for the Red Devils and Mourinho will be well aware of the impact that winning trophies has on a dressing room. Having already brought the EFL Cup and Europa League to Old Trafford last season, the FA Cup would be a welcome addition to the trophy cabinet, whilst success in the competition would also see United win the tournament for the 13th time, a joint-record with Arsenal. Following Friday night’s clash, their ninth match in all competitions in the past month, Mourinho’s men will enjoy a well-deserved 10-day break before taking on relegation-threatened Stoke City on Monday week.