United Preview: Safety First or All Out?

Here we go again. The journey to the graveyard of our dreams with a defence which gives us nightmares.

Whatever team we put out at Old Trafford, we struggle to get anything more than a point. In fact, as far as the league is concerned, we haven’t taken anything more than a point since 2006. Thirteen years.

But in the last six meetings, we’ve been getting to grips with this fixture – three draws and an FA Cup win. That’s pretty good going by our standards. And good by historical ones as well; we’ve only won 17 times at United in close to one hundred visits in all competitions.

Enough with the psyching myself into defeat.

United have their own problems. Injuries are decimating their squad or at least the first XI. No Martial or Rashford; surely the Keystone Kops can handle a 17-year-old Mason Greenwood? Probably not; he’s already writing the chapter in his soon-to-be-released memoir which tells how the night against Arsenal made his name.

That’s, of course, assuming the Keystone Kops play. Unai Emery must decide whether to go with his uber-conservative nature and bring in just one of the newly-fit defenders. Or does he go the whole hog to make three changes?

There’s a strong case for making one change across any three positions. Ainsley Maitland-Niles served his one-match ban and is available once for selection.

As much as I think Calum Chambers is a potential solution to that problem, he is a better centre-back than full-back. In any case, Hector Bellerin is probably 90 minutes from a comeback next weekend against Bournemouth.

Maitland-Niles gets a stay of execution in that sense.

Sead Kolasinac isn’t so fortunate. Kieran Tierney is the ‘safe’ change to make and this is the opportunity Emery will take to make a change.

Safety First

Moreover, I think it’s the only one he’ll make. Rob Holding, in my view, is a better defender than Sokratis for whom the years have taken their toll. Sideshow Bob is Mustafi with a better trophy cabinet and a reputation which is staving off external criticism.

However, Emery won’t want to upset the defence too much. If he rips out two players from the four, we perceive he’s done something about it before kick-off but as the match unfolds, will they pay the price and play like strangers?

Better than the clownish defending we’ve put out in recent weeks, granted.

I wonder if Emery’s reluctance to make changes to the starting line-up is whether he is too concerned about it going wrong? Does a fear of failure hold him back?

Surely, Arsenal kicked that out of him by now…

In all honesty, this is one match against a mid-table team and that’s how we ought to approach it. United aren’t the force they were. Woodward gave Solskjaer a vote of confidence so he’s one defeat from the elbow.

Is it tonight? Certainly, the international break gives the United board time to get someone in well before their match against Liverpool later this month.

The defence is as vexing as the midfield. It’s Granit Xhaka and three others; I think the dreaded diamond returns this evening, meaning Auba and Pepe will become increasingly isolated as the game progresses.

And leaves massive gaps in the middle of the park as we’re pushed further back by a distinctly ordinary side. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A midfield of Xhaka, Torreira and Guendouzi with Ceballos at the top of a pyramid, seems quite good on paper. Put them on a pitch and something goes wrong.

Square Pegs in Round Holes

Usually, that’s because one of the central midfielders is peeling to the wings as defensive cover. The one left centrally isn’t the strong defensive midfielder, it’s the captain. The one with the photos.

Since Watford, we’ve played three times. Villa, struggling at the foot of the table, almost took points but Frankfurt and Forest were awful. We beat the opposition in front of us but the top-flight of English football continues to give us headaches.

Which is a shame because that’s our bread-and-butter.

Despite this, a point will be a good result for us tonight. Three points is better and given the state of United, we ought to be taking three. However, anything which avoids defeat stands us in good stead. It may draw a line under a rough opening spell. A rough opening spell which saw us lose just once.

Several poor performances but only one defeat and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Is this the XI which will win this game?

Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Tierney; Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi Ceballos; Pepe; Aubameyang

I don’t expect us to put out a 3-4-3; that offers more problems than it solved. It would be a surprise if Saka or Nelson plays, particularly as they increase the chances of that midfield gap emerging. Play becomes stretched which doesn’t suit us at all.

So, have I convinced myself we will tonight? No. Do I think we can? Yes and I certainly struggle to see us losing against this United side…

Enjoy the match wherever you’re watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

134 thoughts on “United Preview: Safety First or All Out?

  1. Welsh corgi says:

    The problem with Xhaka and Ceballos in midfield is the same as with Ozil. We lose control of the engine room and get static. Now they’re pushing us back.

    Why is Xhaka untouchable and Torreira played on the wing and subbed?

  2. consolsbob says:

    I can’t remember ever seeing so many players in a side having words with their own captain before.

    Respected in the dressing room, not by what I see.

  3. Dukey says:

    Why does it look like we are playing Barcelona every flipping week.

  4. C says:


    It is interesting to watch how week in and week out the players on the pitch absolutely berate Xhaka for defending, positioning, etc.

    The more you watch, the more you wonder and see Torriera is perfectly suited for the role Xhaka is supposed to be playing.

  5. C says:

    As Tierney comes back, Sead looks to have done something.

  6. andy1886 says:

    Two more points dropped, very very poor all round.

  7. Las says:

    We were good for a draw… but I really feel this Arsenal team could do better.

  8. Dukey says:

    We really do look like a band of misfits . winging our way along. Need a lot of polishing.

  9. Bufallo says:

    man utd will feel the should have won that.
    oh well we’re playing really badly and hanging in there and somehow 4th.
    sooner we have tierney and bellerin playing the better.
    good of the captain to duck the goal and pick up his yellow.

  10. SV says:

    Take the point and run. It’s a steal.


  11. Arsetralian says:

    In the end I was happy with the draw

    Their midfield was stronger – McTom good game = our usual Guen all action

    No more corners please Reiss – 2 scuffs

    Chambers did well
    Saka too

    Pepe looks like he could catch fire…

    Willock Guen Torr would do me

  12. Paulie Walnuts says:

    Good point, albeit against the worst Manure side I’ve seen since they had Arnie Sidebottom playing centre back.

    Saka was particularly promising & Gwen Doozi did well. Lovely finish from Aubameyang.

  13. Welsh corgi says:

    Pepe didn’t have his best evening I must say. What happened to him. He looked awesome vs pool and terrible today. Nothing like the lightening winger with feints and tricks to the right to the left with blistering speed.

    He looked pretty average today and not much more.

  14. Dukey says:

    Saka looks classy. I thought chambers looked a lot more mature and better. Seems that loan down by the river has served him well.

  15. Welsh corgi says:

    Maybe this is a conspiracy and we conspired by playing poor to keep OleGunnar in his job as they would be a good team with a proper manager and a real threat for 4Th?

    It would go some way explaining the first 11, Xhaka, subbing Torreira, no Ozil on the bench etc.

  16. Adam Singh says:

    We need to sort out our midfield three. I’m not sure anymore what the right combination is. Not even sure about Torreira anymore…..

  17. Dukey says:

    Emery has not a clue either,. ( on the midfield)

  18. Bill says:

    Great preview Yogi

    Collecting a point at Old Trafford is always a surprise and not something you would expect when you look at the schedule for the year.

    Rescued by Aubu just like he has been doing for the last couple of seasons, I can’t believe we have actually had debates on this blog about who was our best player last season and perhaps even more surprising there are still people who come up with a different name when we discuss which player is most important to our team.

  19. freddo says:

    I thought Torriera was excellent value. Played quite high and really led the press and put pressure on Pogba. Then, when he does get the ball he uses it well. I think he’s better there than DM.

  20. Blue Yonder says:

    A draw at OT isn’t the end of the world, even if MU are in the doldrums. I wonder how MU look at it – happy? unhappy? relieved they didn’t lose?
    I think a point away while we’re still trying to get Emery to use his head is not too bad. But then, my expectations aren’t very high at present.

  21. Blue Yonder says:


    All I can say is those pictures must really be something.

  22. Blue Yonder says:

    Very soon now, Bellerin, Holding and Tierney will all be starting and with Chambers continuing to prove himself, there will be no logical reason for Emery to keep starting Sokratis, Bob and Xhaka.
    No LOGICAL reason (unless the captain has given copies of the pics to the other suspects.)

  23. Ras says:

    Welsh corgi,

    Exactly Mr Corgi. The Ceballos Xhaka combination does not work. Both are pretty useless without the ball and as you cite We lose control of the Game .

    In transition when attack breaks down and they are forced to run back towards our Goal they don’t have the legs to get back and cover.

    The 2 don’t truly possess a defensive gene between the 2 of them.

  24. Bill says:

    We need to buy a better defensive midfielder because like it or not we don’t have one on the current squad. I am not suggesting that our defensive problems are their fault but Torreira and Guendouzi both are energy players but they have been on the team for more then a year and our team defense has certainly not gotten any better because of having them in the squad.

    We also need to buy a creative attacking midfielder who is a threat to bring some end product to the pitch. We could sure use an occasional goal from our midfield to take a bit of pressure off of Aubameyang and Lacazette. I think Ceballos has a chance to be a good attacking midfielder at some point in the next few years but he is leaving after this season. I suspect the reason Zidane let him go on loan is because he is not yet ready to be a difference making player.

  25. Spike says:

    It’s clear Emery has no clue:

    No clue what his best 11 is
    Bo clue about tactics or organising a defence
    Bo clue how utterly out of his depth Xhaka is
    No clue about the Prenier League and
    No clue how to speak effin english, still.

    Just hurry up and fuck off.

  26. C says:

    Blue Yonder,

    I’m right there with you mate. Think Torriera at DM is the answer with Guendouzi and one of Ceballos or Ozil is the balance we need. He has the ability to be quite good at the base with Guendouzi linking and Ceballos or Ozil knitting things in the final 3rd.

  27. C says:

    I know people are banging for Tierney, as am I, but it must be noted that Sead has played well both up and down the flank.

    I like Chambers and Maitland-Niles but Bellerin is the RB to balance our back 4.

    With that said, Pepe still doesn’t look fully fit (watching him this season compared to last and in the AFCON, his quickness and pace look….OFF) and Lacazette is massive. I do wonder what this XI will look like with Lacazette at CF and Aubameyang and Pepe playing off him with a balanced midfield.

    Bob said it and I COMPLETELY agree, Xhaka wasn’t horrendous(though he ducked), but I’ve never played with or seen a club Captain take so much berating from his teammates.

  28. Bill says:


    It’s pretty clear that ozil is no longer in the mix for a spot in the starting 11 and after watching the team for the last couple of years its not a surprise. He has been almost totally ineffective when he has played. Ceballos May have talent but he is young and probably not ready to be the focal point of the midfield attack. It also takes time for players to adapt to the PL game. Ceballos had a great game against Burnley but otherwise he has been underwhelming and suggesting that he is the answer to our lack of midfield creativity is probably not realistic.

    Regarding your suggestion of a midfield defensive base of Torriera and Guendouzi I admire your optimism but there is zero evidence to date which suggests that would work. Last year you kept insisting that Guendouzi was not a defensive player and so far Torriera has been highly underwhelming in his time in an Arsenal shirt

  29. Spike says:


    Zero evidence apart from the fact that Torreira excelled in the DM position when in Italy.

    But yeah, no evidence whatsoever! Hehe!!

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