United turned in a diabolical display at Wembley on Wednesday evening to slump to a deserved 2-0 defeat to Mauricio Pochettino’s rampant Tottenham Hotspur side, a defeat which in reality could have been much, much worse on the scoreboard. After conceding a goal to Christian Eriksen just 11 seconds after the match kicked-off, things went from bad to worse for the Red Devils midway through the half when Phil Jones opted to try to clear a routine Kieran Trippier cross with his right boot when it could easily have been dealt with on his left; the result was a calamitous own-goal which killed off any hopes of a comeback, even at that early stage of the game, and by the end of the 90 gruelling minutes United were well beaten.
All hopes of mounting a challenge for the Premier League title are gone, and our full concentration must now turn to ensuring we retain the runners-up place we currently possess, the gap to Liverpool and Chelsea now only 3 points. Tomorrow we welcome Huddersfield Town to Old Trafford for the first time in almost 47 years in top flight football, and after the Wembley debacle, the onus on making sure they do NOT enjoy their trip to Manchester couldn’t be more pressing.
The Terriers early season good form, which included a wretched 2-1 defeat for United in West Yorkshire back in late October, has long since deserted them, and David Wagner’s men now find themselves nervously peering over their shoulders at the relegation trapdoor looming ever wider for the likes of themselves and Watford, seemingly unable to halt their slide down the table.
United simply must carry the threat to our visitors; anything less than a convincing home victory will leave us clinging precariously to 2nd place, all our early season hope and promise dashed by several gormless performances against Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and tomorrow’s opponents.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (very fluid 4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – the Spanish no. 1 was helpless to prevent Tottenham from profiting from several moments of ruthless play at Wembley, and will be hoping the men in front of him in red shirts play MUCH, much better tomorrow than they did on Wednesday.
RB: Antonio Valencia– Tony was our best outfield player against Spurs; that, alas, only meant he was his usual competent self on this occasion, such was the scale of the desperately poor displays all around him. Again, he will be dependable against Huddersfield Town, and hopefully will get a lot more opportunities to show attacking adventure.
LB: Luke Shaw- Luke found himself once again dropped to the bench, Ashley Young favoured at left-back at Wembley. Whilst Young didn’t play badly, he was left exposed time and time again by both Sanchez and Martial’s failure to get back to help him deal with the multiple threats of Eriksen, Deli Alli, Son Heung-min and Trippier. I’d have Shaw back in for this game.
CBs: Phil Jones & Marcos Rojo–With Eric Bailly still sidelined, and after witnessing an abomination of a display from Chris Smalling against Tottenham, I’d bring in Rojo and pair him with Jones, who will want to quickly put the Spurs game behind him. Jones has been relatively steady this season, the last outing a blip (hopefully) in an otherwise good season for the big English lad. His comedic own-goal disguised an otherwise decent performance which included several very timely interceptions to prevent the Tottenham forwards making the scoreline worse, and when paired with Smalling, Phil Jones is often doing the work of two men. Rojo is prone to the occasional rash challenge, but should relish a physical battle with Laurent Depoitre or Steve Mounie.
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Ander Herrera– Matic had a poor game by his standards at Wembley, but he was certainly not helped by seeing his ‘defensive’ partner Paul Pogba caught wandering forward time and time again, leaving the big Serb exposed against three or four Spurs attackers. He probably needs a rest, but unless Jose fancies bringing veteran Michael Carrick in for this match, I can’t see how Matic can be rested. Herrera is having a dreadful season, but in order to push Pogba further forward where we can get the benefit of his attacking vision and skills, I’d bring the Basque player in alongside Matic for this game.
RM: Alexis Sanchez- the ‘new boy’ tried his best to impact the game on Wednesday, but a mixture of getting brutally kicked and knocked around by the Spurs players (without any protection from referee Andre Marriner) and the largely lethargic performances of his team-mates limited Alexis to an average debut Premier League performance for his new club. Tomorrow, on his home debut for the Red Devils, I’d expect much more involvement from him, and hopefully his first United goal!
AM (C): Paul Pogba– The Frenchman had a game to forget at Wembley, constantly caught out of position when our attempts to get behind the Spurs defence came to nothing. His indiscipline left Matic repeatedly exposed to the counter-attacking numbers Pochettino’s men committed forward, and whilst Pogba was the victim of a few heavy challenges which largely went unpunished, his best position is clearly further forward as an attacking midfielder. Hopefully Jose Mourinho feels the same way, because Pogba is wasted as a defensive partner for Matic; he just doesn’t suit that role.
LM: Anthony Martial- Martial was shifted to start on the right side at Wembley, a move which, despite him having United’s best chance with a fierce near-post drive well saved by Hugo Lloris in the 1st half, didn’t come off. Tony plays best from the left side, and I hope Mourinho has noted that too. When he switched back to the left side for the 2nd half against Spurs, we seen more (albeit limited) involvement from Martial. He needs to start on the left, where his electric pace and control will give the Terriers’ right-back nightmares.
CF: Romelu Lukaku– the big Belgian endured another frustrating evening against Tottenham, often left stranded up top against three defenders; in effect he had very little chance to make anything from the balls that were thumped in his general direction from the United rearguard…. I’d hope to see the big man get some actual service tomorrow, because he is still one of the best finishers in England and will score goals if given opportunities. Those so-called fans slating him on social media clearly have no idea how football ‘works’- strikers need service; without it, even the likes of Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane can have little impact on a game.
BENCH: Romero, Rashford, Lindelof, Lingard, Carrick, Mata, Young.
After the shockingly inept performance against Tottenham last time out, only a victory will suffice for United tomorrow, and failure to beat a team who in all reality may find themselves back playing Championship football next season will be totally unacceptable. David Wagner has done well with a limited squad and an even more limited budget, and I’d like to see the Terriers avoid the drop, but we need all the points from this encounter, and I hope and expect that we will get them. A few players let themselves, their manager, the United fans at Wembley and the Club itself down with their inept displays on Wednesday evening, and I expect a response from them tomorrow….some of them should, by now, be on thin ice as regards having a future at Old Trafford beyond next summer.