Manchester United vs Reading Predicted XI: Who will start as the Reds kick off their FA Cup title defence?

Manchester United vs Reading Predicted XI: Who will start as the Reds kick off their FA Cup title defence?

Jose Mourinho will be looking to spoil Jaap Stam's Old Trafford return against the Dutchman's Championship high-flyers.

Alex Turk

'Yip Jaap Stam's' Reading visit Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon in search of a major upset against holders Manchester United in the FA Cup third round proper with Jose Mourinho expected to lightly rotate his side ahead of a big EFL Cup semi-final on Tuesday against managerless Hull City. A possible giant-killing is unlikely considering United are on a 13-match unbeaten run as well as a seven-match winning streak in all competitions. However, the visitors have won eight out of their last 10 outings so it's highly doubtful that Mourinho will field a weak team given his reputation of taking every single competition seriously.

In defence...

Goalkeeper - Sergio Romero: Jose Mourinho confirmed in his pre-match press conference that back-up goalkeeper will start for the first time in a couple of months on Saturday. Romero has proved an excellent back-up for David de Gea, who is likely to regain his starting place against Hull City  on Tuesday in the EFL Cup. 

Right-back - Timothy Fosu-Mensah: Timothy Fosu-Mensah broke onto the first team scene last season and is considered as one of the brightest young talents in world football today but has been limited to just five appearances for the Reds since Mourinho took charge, three of which came in the UEFA Europa League, so an early round tie in a cup competition would be the perfect opportunity to give him the game-time he wants and needs. If 19-year-old Dutchman was to feature, it would most likely be in the place of Antonio Valencia at right-back despite being recognised as a natural defensive midfielder so whether he'll be involved is up in the air seen as though Valencia and Matteo Darmian appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order however there's no doubting his potential and he won't develop if he doesn't play.

Centre-back - Phil Jones: Since Jones returned to the starting lineup against Swansea City in early November after another long-term injury, Manchester United have gone 13 games unbeaten in all competitions with the Englishman forming an unexpectedly strong partnership with fellow former scapegoat Marcos Rojo. It now seems like he's favoured over Chris Smalling in the right-sided centre-back position and is currently on his longest ever run at the club without injury so things should be staying that way for now but his manager won't want to overwork him due to the ongoing injury concerns, and with a huge game against Liverpool just around the corner so it's unlikely he'll play on both tomorrow and Tuesday sparking suggestion that maybe Smalling will partner Rojo instead.

Centre-back - Marcos Rojo: With the team in such good form there's really no need at all to disrupt the strong defensive bond in the heart of the back line and make use of the form that Rojo is in at the moment so it'd be appropriate to keep the centre-back pairing unchanged and then possibly bring Smalling in on Tuesday evening. Jose Mourinho already stating his dislike for two centre-backs with the same stronger foot playing alongside each other and other than Daley Blind, who is seen as more of a left-back, the Argentina international is United's only option to play alongside Jones, Smalling or even Axel Tuanzebe.

Left-back - Luke Shaw: We haven't seen the young full-back since the Reds' convincing 4-1 EFL Cup victory against West Ham back in November but he's now ready to return and tomorrow's fixture feels like a great chance to rest the likes of Daley Blind. Shaw evidently hasn't recovered from that devastating leg break in the first months of last season in Eindhoven and has struggled for fitness ever since but now he's back and will be raring to show Mourinho why he deserves his chance.

In midfield...

Centre-midfielder - Ander Herrera: Ander Herrera seems irreplaceable in the Manchester United set-up at the moment and his alliance with Pogba has been crucial so it's highly possible that both will form a midfield two once again seen as though midfield options are limited with Morgan Schneiderlin heading out of the exit door and Bastian Schweinsteiger out of favour. Marouane Fellaini is always an option and Mourinho does like him so if there is a midfield three instead of two it's likely that the Belgian will start as well.

Centre-midfielder - Paul Pogba: The Frenchman is only 23 years old so loads of rest isn't required and he could probably play in both FA Cup and EFL Cup matches so his creativity will play a large part in United's success this season. Pogba resembles the engine of the team and the way he glides past opposition as well as his contribution in build up to goals would be heavily missed and would feel like a massive hole in the side, rotation or not, so he would be the first name on the team sheet for a number of people.

In attack...

Right-wing - Juan Mata: Since Henrikh Mkhitaryan cemented his place in the starting XI, Premier League starts have been a rarity for Juan Mata as of late, however, he's made a huge difference in the games he's come on, most notably Middlesbrough at home where he assisted Paul Pogba for the winning goal and West Ham away by scoring the opening goal. 

Centre-attacking-midfielder - Wayne Rooney: He's been out of the matchday squads for three consecutive games with a thigh problem but will now make his return to action tomorrow afternoon, the only question is whether it'll be in his favoured position just behind the striker or just up front. The latter might be the more likely of the two because Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked extremely jaded against West Ham after a busy festive period which is understandable and it's clear that rest is required if he wants to be in top condition for the Liverpool game. 

Left-wing - Anthony Martial: Anthony Martial has been nowhere near as effective as his breakout year last season so far under Jose Mourinho, scoring just five goals in all competitions, so giving him a start in the competition that he contributed so much in last term would mean a lot to him. The young forward scored a crucial equaliser against West Ham at Old Trafford which forced a replay in the quarter-final as well as that 93rd-minute winner against Everton at Wembley to put his team into the final so it'd bring back great memories to see him kick-off the Reds' defence. His form has radically improved in recent games.

Striker - Marcus Rashford: What else can be said about the impact Marcus Rashford had on the game at the London Stadium on Monday? He completely changed the game when United were really struggling despite the opponents being down to ten men early on, he fully deserves a start tomorrow. He's being utilised as a left-winger at the moment, however, with Ibrahimovic set to be rested many supporters will want to see either him of Martial return to their natural position of an all-out striker.