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.
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.