Manchester United come up against a Sheffield United who despite just having lost to Peterborough are in good spirits. They have won four of their last five league fixtures and coach Nigel Adkins, a friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, scooped up the manager of the month award for December.
This fixture and the following trip to Newcastle may well be the defining fixtures of the season for Louis van Gaal. Lose and we risk returning to the awful eight game run that saw us slump from 1st to Liverpool territory. Win both games and behold we have a three game win streak. If anything we need confidence when approaching the Stoke game and the Anfield trip soon after. We also have not won the FA Cup for twelve years, what a great way to start reclaiming some of the Old Trafford faithful.
NO REST FOR THE BEST
Whilst other teams ponder resting some big names and fielding youth for experience, United cannot afford this luxury and MUST treat this game the way they did against Club Brugge at the beginning of the season. The FA Cup for me was a huge factor in the current success of Man City. Players who arrived at the club beforehand were labelled as “money-hungry” as City were not credible trophy hunters. After winning the FA Cup a certain Sergio Aguero arrived at the club. The rest is painful history. The current crop of players must taste success in the English game and this could be the best bet this season. For that reason we must field a strong team containing the likes of Martial, Young and Chris Smalling. Herrera should play even if solely on the basis of THAT goal in the FA Cup last year.
Swansea were more or less dominated when Ashley Young was in possession out wide last weekend. Why? They expected the same United tactics, “insert wide play here” receives ball and passes across to Herrera/Rooney who has “insert holding midfielder” to pass to, Smalling/Blind receives it and the cycle continues. Instead, Ashley Young would receive the ball and the Swansea back line was immediately stretched. They were now expecting crosses and it wasn’t just Mata or Memphis cutting back in and getting doubled up on. As a result Mata, Herrera and Schweinstiger found themselves in much more space to create or cause chaos. Mata found himself slightly to the right of a “number 10” role which suited him much more. With the promise of a good quality cross, there were multiple 6 yard volunteers to be seen for once, Rooney and Martial scored their goals from within 5 yards of goal.
Of the most worrying things about United’s current form is that once they’ve taken the lead they cannot seem to destroy teams as they once would. An onslaught of goals has now been replaced by the imminent worry of conceding. A change of tactics is usually the cause of this worry. A flurry of substitutions after the first goal last weekend caused some instability and Swansea to their credit to full advantage in levelling the scores.
While I understand that youth players need a chance this might not be the right time to do this. Fielding the least changes would be our best chance to progress comfortably. Some top-flight experience mixed with pace should be enough to win the tie. Sheffield United are not ones to cower in their own half – they may well attempt to take the game to us. However, looking at what other teams have done so well against us this season it might work for them to be disciplined at the back waiting to counter us quickly. This is why Fellaini may have a role to play later on in the game. He may even start to provide some toughness against the League One team. Pereira is obviously jumping through the right hoops for van gaal and he played well against Spurs U21’s. He can stake a claim for the starting eleven. However I would want to see Memphis start. Martial has shown him how to play when put out wide. Against Sheffield United he may be able to get on the scoresheet and this may give him some confidence. Lingard and Martial on the wings and Mata behind Rooney would make me happy, as would Martial and Mata on the wings, providing Herrera plays in the number 10 role. Borthwick-Jackson and Varela were good against Wolfsburg in a difficult situation, why not give them a chance while we are recovering from injuries. Ashley Young has been one of the star players for me this season, he has got his head down and when called upon has done whatever was asked of him. If he isnt rested I hope he is played in his position!
PLAYER TO WATCH: Billy Sharp
The Blades hitman who has notched up eleven goals and three assists may show United what a free scoring striker looks like if he is given too much space. Hopefully Smalling will not be rested
PREDICTION: 1-0 United
I’d like to say the score will be greater, but United still have a bruised confidence and are not so free scoring as they would want to be.