Dare I go for the ‘jumpers for goalposts’ of Sundy-sundy-Sunderland or an eclair would have taken a better penalty than McClair? Nothing like a few moments reverie…
The hope is that reality won’t grab us by the lapels this evening and deliver a ‘Kirby Kiss’. Talking heads tell you United are resurgent under Solskjaer; we were too under Emery when we played a run of ‘easy’ fixtures. The impressive result – a win at Tottenham – was the exception; he’s had six other ‘gimme’s’. It’s up to us to make sure that we don’t roll over tonight.
Which might have been the case prior to Chelsea. Let’s be honest, the performance was at odds with anything seen since the North London Derby. It was a very welcome jolt to the system; dynamic, energetic, and every other ‘ic’ including the ‘hic’ of too many post-match beers.
The expectation is that there won’t be any changes to the starting XI beyond those enforced. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has a big job to replicate Hector Bellerin’s energy down the right whilst not leaving us overly exposed on the left. That’s a big ask of a relatively inexperienced player; will it influence Unai Emery’s thinking?
I hope not. The back four worked well against Chelsea although the obvious difference tonight is that United will play with a recognised centre-forward. Lukaku, Martial or Rashford; none are unplayable with a pair of experienced central defenders in Sokratis and Koscielny at the helm.
Sadly, if you put Mustafi into the mix and there is an unpredictable element which undermines that experience. I jest, of course. Don’t I..?
I am looking forward to this evening’s game if last weekend’s Arsenal turns up. Not if we don’t; it could be a bloodbath if we revert to our nervy selves.
Staying Alive In The Cup
Emery found an unlikely ally in Gary Neville, who believes he needs four or five transfer windows to resolve this squad’s weaknesses. The Spaniard, immediately, is clear about what he wants:
The idea is
firstlyto find the quality and this quality can help us. We need, if he can come here, a winger for the right or left or some players also at centre back.
That’s a fairly damning indictment of the current squad although he offered a glimmer of hope:
Dinos Mavropanos is coming back after his injuries and I think I can use him in the next matches.
The younger Greek is an interesting prospect. He made a decent start in his Arsenal career but the red card and subsequent injury mean he is something of an unknown quantity. I can see him starting against Cardiff City with Koscielny unable to physically cope with three games in eight days; certainly not when both Manchester clubs are the bookends of that trio of matches.
Emery spoke of the team’s defending being equally as important as the back four:
I think against West Ham we can work better defensively also and we conceded one goal but we still didn’t concede a lot of chances. The last two matches I think we have been better defensively. Against Manchester United against big and great players, we do the same work. We can be defensively strong and I think we need every player to defend, not only the defensive players, the attacking players can help us too. Defensively in the last match against Chelsea every player worked hard offensively and defensively with good spirit. We pressed against them and I think we can do the same on Friday and our objective on Friday is to keep another clean sheet against Manchester United.
You’ll Win Again
That element of tonight’s match. Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ramsey all tracked back well against Chelsea. We conceded a few chances in the second half but that’s only natural in football.
Even in the most one-sided of games, you expect chances for the losing team so I’m not concerned by that, simply because we were content with our lead. The reaction had they scored is what would have counted but that is the stuff of ifs, buts and maybes.
It was also interesting that Emery mentioned wide players which suggests he is not happy with the performances of Iwobi and Mkhitaryan. Does he see them as useful squad players or are they on the way out? The latter is certainly a highly-paid squad player if that is his role. There is a lot of work to be done this summer to stabilise the wage bill.
But that is for then, this is for now and tonight’s XI is likely to be something like:
Cech; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Ramsey, Aubameyang, Lacazette
It isn’t, sadly, an occasion when the youngsters who shone at Blackpool get a runout. I can’t see United fielding a weakened team and for us to do so would be politely described as ‘foolhardy’. Impolitely, two words with the ‘f’ remaining intact…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.