I’m The Boss: Time To Banish The Blues….

Manchester United earned a 0-0 draw against La Liga outfit Sevilla in Southern Spain on Wednesday night in their Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game, and although the result was creditable, the performance was desperately poor, with the Red Devils mustering only one worthwhile shot on target in 90 dull minutes, and they had goalkeeper David de Gea to thank, once again, for securing a clean sheet with several world-class saves, particularly a reflex one-handed stop from Luis Muriel header at point-blank range.

The manner of that performance, coupled with the omission of star player Paul Pogba from the starting XI and manager Jose Mourinho’s decision to drop left-back Luke Shaw from the matchday squad altogether, has raised fresh questions in the minds of many United fans regarding the manager’s handling of the squad, and his choice of formation and tactics.

United were very unsure defensively in Sevilla, with even the normally reliable Antonio Valencia seeming to fear the trickery of Joaquin Correa. Once again, Chris Smalling’s performance left much to be desired, his attempts to defend the chance that Muriel brought the incredible save from de Gea from frankly amateurish, the sort of basic errors you’d see in schoolboy football.

So, going into a game with defending Champions Chelsea could prove to be the making or breaking of a few reputations for those in red shirts. The Blues have had a largely indifferent season, failing miserably to defend their title in the face of Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne-inspired onslaught, but there is no doubt manager Antonio Conte will have his men fired up to face a man in Jose Mourinho whom he absolutely despises….and it’s fair to say the bad feeling is mutual!

This will be a titanic tussle, the enmity from the touchline sure to seep its way out onto the park… there is no love lost between these clubs, and the fact that United have allowed themselves to be dragged back into the scramble for 2nd position in the final Premier League table due to abject defeats at Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United means we need to do everything we can to secure a home win.

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

GK: David de Gea – David reinforced his reputation as the best goalkeeper in the world with a sensational display in Sevilla, single-handedly denying the Spanish side on at least six or seven occasions. I’d love to say he will have much less to do against Chelsea, but that would be ‘hope’ rather than ‘expectation’. Indispensable.

RB: Antonio Valencia– Tony has looked a lot less assured of himself in recent weeks, no doubt partially due to constantly finding himself alongside a myriad of different team-mates in the centre-back positions. With there being a good chance he will be tasked with shackling the irrepressible Eden Hazard, this would be a good time for Valencia to rediscover the form that made him a hero to many United fans….sure to have a busy afternoon.

LB: Luke Shaw- I cannot convey how sad it makes me feel every time I see a United team-sheet that has this lad’s name missing from it. For me, he has the ability to become one of the outstanding full-backs in Europe, yet his manager seems to lack any trust in him whatsoever, preferring the inferior defensive abilities of Ashley Young. I wholeheartedly disagree with Mourinho, and I’d have Luke in every starting XI for United if he’s match-fit.

CBs: Eric Bailly & Phil Jones– Eric Bailly was supposed to be fit enough to face Sevilla, but in the end didn’t make it, and instead we were left watching Smalling further diminish the transfer fee we might get for his ‘services’ in the summer. I can only hope Bailly is fit to face Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata, and I also hope Phil Jones can come in to partner him, as for me these two are the most consistent centre-halves United possess right now. If Jones doesn’t make it, I’d play either Marcos Rojo or Victor Lindelof.

 

DMs: Nemanja Matic & Scott McTominay– Matic needs a rest, but we simply don’t have anyone with either the ability or fitness to fill in for him, so he’ll have to soldier on. I find the criticism of him from some quarters hard to believe, considering how well he has played for us to date. McTominay showed on Wednesday that he is more than capable of playing on the biggest stage, and I’d have him partnering Matic without any concerns whatsoever.

AM (C): Paul Pogba– We need Pogba to get his head ‘right’ and get back to the level we know he can operate at- hopefully that starts on Sunday… he’s easily our most talented outfield player, and he needs to ‘step up’ and show it.

 

RF: Alexis Sanchez- Sanchez has struggled to have an impact in a United shirt so far, and that’s mostly to do with fitting in with the other attacking players rather than any lack of intent on his part. His ability isn’t in doubt, but like Pogba, we could do with it having an impact on our ‘goals for’ column…

LF: Anthony Martial- Martial came off the bench at Sevilla, but hadn’t much chance to contribute meaningfully. I’d start him in his preferred position on the left side, where he can give the Chelsea defence plenty of problems.

CF: Romelu Lukaku– the Belgian again struggled to make an impact in Spain, starved of any service, and short of support from those behind him as well. His lone chance (apart from the opportunity he was called back for a ‘handball’ on) was an early half-chance on the volley that went over the crossbar. He can’t ‘feed off scraps’, and hopefully he sees a lot more support and chances at Old Trafford.

BENCH: Romero, Rojo, Lingard, Carrick, Mata, Young, Rashford.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!): in the context of the remainder of our Premier League campaign, a win on Sunday would be a great boost, not only over Chelsea, but in terms of giving confidence to a side that look very short of it right now. The Sevilla performance was poor, not what we expect to see from a Manchester United team in Europe, and if the performance on Sunday is similarly devoid of attacking threat then serious questions will start to be asked about our whole tactical approach to important games. Let’s hope we’re all much happier after 90 minutes than many of us currently are going into them….

About the Author

Rodney McCain
A passionate supporter of Manchester United since I was 6 years old. In life I'm a consulting civil engineer, but that's only to pay the bills. Originally from Northern Ireland, I was a regular at Old Trafford for many years, but now reside in the United States, which makes getting to games a tad difficult.... I love to write about football, which hopefully comes across to readers on these sites.