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Dublin: 2°C Friday 27 November 2020

Is this how Jose Mourinho’s Man United side will line up in the new season?

The Red Devils have recently added Zlatan Ibrahhimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Image: Tim Goode

IN RECENT SEASONS, Jose Mourinho has generally switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, so expect one of those two formations at United in the coming months.

David de Gea, provided Real Madrid don’t decide to make another big-money bid for him, is one definite starter.

At the back, Chris Smalling’s frequently excellent performances last season should be enough for him to retain a place in the side.

Mourinho invariably uses big, imposing centre-backs, so expect new £30million 22-year-old Eric Bailly to be given the nod instead of the smaller Daley Blind, though Phil Jones, if he can overcome his injury issues, could also feature regularly if Mourinho feels Bailly is too inexperienced to be trusted right away.

Luke Shaw — who Mourinho tried to sign as manager of Chelsea and is back in training after missing much of last season owing to a broken leg suffered in the Champions League against PSV — still looks like United’s best option at left-back.

At right-back, Matteo Darmian has the experience and the potential to come good under Mourinho, despite an indifferent 2015-16 campaign in his Premier League debut season. Should either of these options fail to work out for one reason or another, the Red Devils still have decent back-up options including teenagers Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, both of whom impressed when thrown in at the deep end by Louis van Gaal last season.

Mourinho could move the Dutchman into midfield, where he has often been used in the past, though United have a number of options for the defensive-midfield spots. Bastian Scheweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick will also compete for the position, though the fact that the latter recently signed a new contract indicates that Mourinho still sees him as a very important part of the club in the coming season.

And of course, United have been heavily linked with Paul Pogba of late. Should the Frenchman sign, then he will surely be guaranteed one of the two spots at the base of midfield.

In attack, Mourinho also has an embarrassment of riches. The Portuguese coach will presumably find room for high-profile new signings Zlatan Ibrahhimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his starting XI, while Anthony Martial — as United’s best attacking player last season — also looks in pole position to feature.

Mourinho indicated in his press conference during the week that he doesn’t see Wayne Rooney as a midfield player, so expect the experienced England international to return to a more familiar number 10 role at Old Trafford in the coming months.

The 53-year-old coach generally tends to respect big-name players, so Rooney will likely be given a chance to prove that he still has what it takes to thrive as part of United’s attack, despite signs of his powers waning (no pun intended) of late.

On the bench, expect a mixture of seasoned pros like Morgan Scneiderlin and exciting youngsters such as Marcus Rashford and Borthwick-Jackson. Jesse Lingard may not be as flashy as some of his rivals for a first-team place, but he feels very much like a Mourinho player — effective in attack, but perhaps more importantly, incredibly disciplined and defensively reliable, in the mould of someone like Oscar at Chelsea.

Marouane Fellaini is another that Mourinho will probably view as an asset rather than a liability. While his limited technical ability and erratic moments mean he is far from the most popular player at Old Trafford, the Belgian international’s versatility as both a ‘plan B’ option in attack and a reasonably solid defensive midfielder is likely to see him remain at the club under the Portuguese boss.

There is also a touch of the Diego Costas about the former Everton midfielder – he frequently gets on opponents’ nerves and does what it takes to win – qualities Mourinho undoubtedly admires if his previous teams’ Machiavellian styles are anything to go by.

The Red Devils’ squad must be cut to 25 before the Premier League season begins, with at least eight homegrown players required to feature, though U21 stars such as Rashford and Fosu-Mensah are allowed to play even if excluded from the main list.

Inevitably, however, some players will be cast aside. Juan Mata looks an obvious candidate. He was sold by Mourinho at Chelsea, and despite being a popular figure at Old Trafford by all accounts, it would be a surprise if the notoriously stubborn coach were to suddenly warm to him.

Adnan Januzaj, Memphis Depay, Marcos Rojo and Bastian Schweinsteiger — all of whom had largely indifferent seasons last year — could also potentially make way. Depay and Januzaj, in particular, have been criticised in the past for their attitude and application, and consequently don’t exactly seem like seamless fits for the Mourinho project.


Subs: Romero, Borthwick Jackson, Jones, Herrera, Lingard, Fellaini, Rashford.

Could come under pressure: Rojo, McNair, Mata, Januzaj, Young, Blind, Schweinsteiger, Valencia, Depay, Wilson.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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