Manchester United host Sunderland today in a game the Mancunian Reds will be looking to win in order to keep themselves withing touching distance of leaders Manchester City. The Red Devils’ form has somewhat flown under the radar due to the form of their bitter rivals, the Citizens, who have – before the loss to West Ham last weekend – been the only team with a 100 per cent record in the league.
However, United are presently two points adrift of City and have a good chance of getting themselves on the top of the table with a victory against Dick Advocaat’s side later today. On paper, the Red Devils look decent to snatch a win over the Black Cats, as Sunderland are winless in the league this term.
Aside Luke Shaw, who is set to face a lengthy spell on the sidelines, and the injured duo of Marcos Rojo and Paddy Mc Nair, United boss Louis van Gaal has his full squad available.
Having said that, who should van Gaal choose to start against Sunderland? Here is the team we reckon the Dutchman should start.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea.
The Spanish goalkeeper missed all of United’s pre-season fixtures plus their games in August due to a transfer tussle. With that settled, there were talks that De Gea could find it difficult to show his brilliant form of last season to reclaim his spot in the team, after new signing Sergio Romero had performed admirably in the Spaniard’s absence.
But after just two games, De Gea has shown no signs of rustiness, having pulled out a sensational save from Southampton’s Jose Fonte’s header in United’s 3-2 win over the South Coast outfit last weekend. The former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper will certainly start against today.
Defence: Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian.
United are chronically lacking in the left-back position in the team, with Shaw set to be out for around 6 months and Rojo joining the Englishman on the sidelines. Daley Blind is the only left-footed player in the United first team presently capable of playing at left-back, but it is highly unlikely that van Gaal will be fielding the former Ajax star in that position, as Blind’s partnership with Smalling in central defence has received praises recently from fans and pundits alike due to their superb displays.
Van Gaal should rather make summer signing Matteo Darmian a makeshift left-back and the Italian right back – who has also been fantastic for United so far this term – should have no problem adapting, having played in that role for former club Torino in the past.
If this happens, it could mean a first start for Antonio Valencia this term, after the former Wigan attacker impressed as a second half substitute against the Saints last weekend.
Central Midfield: Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin.
LVG has rotated his central midfielders often this season, with Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schnweinsteiger all getting their fair share of game times.
Both Carrick and Schneiderlin started in last weekend’s victory against Southampton and with the 31-year old Schweinsteiger playing the full game in midweek, it is very likely that Carrick and Schneiderlin will continue in the heart of United’s midfield against Sunderland later today.
Schneiderlin had his best game for the Red Devils against his former side last weekend, completing 95 per cent of his passes and making seven defensive actions [per Squawka], while Carrick also played a starring role before being replace by Schweinsteiger later in the game.
Attacking Midfield: Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay.
Slowly, Mata is becoming a pivotal figure in the Man United team under van Gaal despite being deployed in a wide right position. The Spaniard’s 11 passes and 2 assists are the highest for any Red Devil this term. After making some errors while playing as a 10 in United’s loss to PSV in the Champions League, Mata will probably continue on the right flank.
@SquaekaDave tweeted: “Since moving to #MUFC, Mata has been directly involved in more goals  than any other United player. #MUFC.”
Meanwhile, on the opposite wing, Memphis Depay has not really been able to replicate the form he showed at his former side PSV, as the young Dutchman has been unable to provide neither a goal nor assist for United in the league, despite shining in Europe. Depay has started all of the Red Devils’ league games this season and a time will surely come when the pacey attacker is handed a rest. However, that is unlikely to happen this weekend, as Sunderland at Old Trafford should be a chance for Depay to get himself on track.
In the middle behind the striker, captain Wayne Rooney is expected to continue this weekend, having played there against Sunderland. Rooney’s position in that area is under threat as Ander Herrera is also in top form as well. The England striker is yet to score a league goal this season and a return to a deeper position also failed to change his fortunes. Now is the time for Rooney to step up.
Striker: Anthony Martial.
The French teenager has started life brightly for Man United in England and Europe, with his goal against Ipswich during the midweek took his goal tally to four in three games since joining Louis van Gaal’s side on transfer deadline day. Martial’s composure in front of goal has been incredible and his three shots on target have all led to goals in the league.
Van Gaal should stick with Martial until the goals possibly dry up and, the Dutchman should also keep playing Depay in order for the youngster to rediscover his PSV form.