United Preview: Here We Go Again

Unai Emery, you get the feeling, is the sort of manager who would pin an article disparaging to the side on the dressing room wall. He’d point to it and tell the players, “This is how we will prove them wrong…“. And when it doesn’t work in the first 45 minutes, the half-time team talk is “Hang on, lads; I’ve got a great idea.

So, to Old Trafford we go.

Sunday laid to rest a demon with the fightback to claim a victory which merited no sense of humility given the shushy-divey-cheaty nature of the opposition’s performance. When respect is given to Arsenal, the players I’m sure will return the favour. But when the level of cheating is close to stratospheric, don’t expect respect or any common courtesy.

Which is relevant given the manager of tonight’s opponents. If there is a coach who is willing to look at the dark arts and consider them too lightweight, it is Mourinho. His third season implosion is playing out publicly with the sanctity of the dressing room gone. Every word he says is betrayed, published in the dailies as they begin to scent blood.

Tonight’s excuses are already written. United, the narrative goes, are struggling to find a centre-back worthy of the name due to injury. They struggle to find a centre-back worthy of the name when everyone’s fit so this is nothing new. But Jose will bemoan his lack of good fortune, you can be sure of that.

And for us, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the past. When United previously suffered poor form or injury crises, we made them look world-beaters. Even when we put out good sides. Old Trafford, even before Arsene, was a graveyard of dreams more than once or twice.

Throwing Down The Gauntlet

None of this weighs heavily on Unai Emery’s mind. He knows we’ve suffered in the past but is plotting his own course. Which currently sees Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as its’ focal point. Top scorer in the Premier League and a ridiculous 100% record for his last ten shots on target. Quite literally, he shoots, he scores.

But that isn’t enough for Emery:

I want him to continue improving, and his challenge is also collective and individual. I want his challenge to be that he has the opportunity to be the best scorer in the Premier League. We want to help him achieve this and that is because, if he is scoring, he is helping us.

A challenge laid down yet finished with unspoken menace: if he isn’t scoring, he’s no good to me…

The striker’s versatility isn’t lost on Emery – “he has played as a winger on the right, on the left and like a striker” – but so is the part confidence plays:

I want to say to him and also to everyone: ‘Don’t stop, continue with this commitment every match.’ It is also important that he takes confidence from matches like [Tottenham], not only from scoring but also from helping with pressing against them and [competing] well with the head against them. Now is the moment to say to him: ‘Don’t stop’.

Indeed. Emery inherited two world-class finishers who are equally adept at playing solo or as a duo. Fitting them into the same team has been his biggest headache; Sunday gave him the answer. The question is whether they both play tonight or is there a shot at redemption for Mkhitaryan and/or Iwobi.

Emery’s thinking is clouded by Granit Xhaka’s suspension. Presumably, Mateo Guendouzi fills that void with Aaron Ramsey taking the #10 role. Has Sunday’s Plan B become Plan A?

Not Another Test…!

It would be adventurous to start with both Lacazette and Aubameyang, especially if he sticks with 3 – 4 – 3. United’s full-backs like to push forward so there is the vulnerability of Kolasinac to consider – and to a lesser extent, Bellerin. Iwobi and Mkhitaryan were ineffective as the first half wore on but worked hard defensively as we imposed ourselves on the game in the opening 30 minutes.

In all honesty, I expect the starting line-up tonight to be similar to Sunday:

Leno; Mustafi, Holding, Sokratis; Bellerin, Torreira, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang

If we start with the XI which finished, more or less, we need the same intensity for it to be effective. While we have faced top six teams at home, this is our first big away game since the lunacy at Stamford Bridge. As ever, tonight will tell us how much we really have improved.

We were strong at home last season and are proving the same again this time around. However, our durability on the road is improving. It’s time to test that in a big match, to see what we have really learned in the past 19 games.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

104 thoughts on “United Preview: Here We Go Again

  1. Arsetralian says:

    One final thought

    Admiring Ramsey attitude and performance

    He was putting in a shift. Too little too late perhaps…

  2. Bill says:


    Again I have not done the research and I may be wrong but I suspect that our goal differential is significantly better in the minutes that PEA and Lacazette are on the pitch at the same time compared to when only one of them is playing. I don’t think it matters very much whether Mkhitaryan Iwobe ozil or Ramsey are playing with them. They have all had some good moments but they are relatively interchangeable while PEA and Lacazette seem like difference makers.

  3. Damon says:

    Pretty much spot on prediction sir. I’ve been saying for ages I’d play Martial Rashford and Lingard as my front three at United. Jose ignores me for two years until we come to town. Toaster

    I was glad when Lingard went off for Pogba. Thought it weakened them. Thought the ref had a bit of a stinker. Unai will be fuming that we led twice and only led for about 14 nanoseconds of the 95 minutes played.

    He was hampered in how he could change the game from forces subs. Hope that Holding and Torreira aren’t serious. Think Rob might be our for a while. You can almost see his knee pop on the slow mo replay. Shame for him and for us


    It’s too predictable. Jose always has something in his bag against us. They had injuries when they came to Emirates last season and they blew us away for 30mins and then defended well for the remaining time. We were odds on to win that as well. I just can’t see it being a predictable result. I can almost guarantee they’ll play well, and we’ll be subjected to his 3 finger waving nonsense as he exclaims how great he is and how he’s had all these bad results but they’re only 5 points away from us and in last 16 of champs league.

    I want to be wrong. I really do. My light at the end of the tunnel is that this is Emery and not Wenger and I expect Emery is able to tactically change things if it’s going against us and he has the players believe they can beat these teams.

    I was nervous about the spurs game but I was extremely anxious about this one purely for the timing (3 days after a NLD) and because its at OT. Spurs met them at OT fairly early on, there is a lot riding on tonight for Man u players and the manager. If we run away with it, Jose could be gone. Its why I can’t see us winning. Previous form means nothing in these games.

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