Manchester United will be looking to progress to last 16 of the Europa League when they face Saint-Etienne for the second time in less than a week on Wednesday evening.
The Red Devils arrive in France in the middle of a busy week – with Jose Mourinho’s side having edged past Blackburn Rovers in an FA Cup tie on Sunday, and they face further cup action this weekend when they will meet Southampton in the EFL Cup final at Wembley.
Defence first for United
United’s Portuguese coach will have plenty to think about, therefore, when it comes to choosing his team for Wednesday’s game – and those who are and aren’t involved could go a long way in determining who Mourinho will look to for his first cup final as the Red Devils manager on Sunday.
After experiencing the rarity of being left out for the last two games, first choice goalkeeper David de Gea can expect to regain his starting spot in this match, with Mourinho sure to deploy a strong defensive unit as United will aim to at least hold on to their three-goal advantage.
Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly are some of Mourinho’s other defensive favourites and should also both return to the side, but Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian are perhaps more likely to resume starting duties in South-West France. The latter especially, who seems to be the boss’ trusted man at left-back in away matches which seem to require greater responsibility at the back.
In the centre of the park, United are without Ander Herrera due to suspension, but his usual midfield partner Paul Pogba will probably start after only coming off the bench against Blackburn. It seems most likely that he’ll be partnered by Marouane Fellaini as the Reds look to protect the lead.
For that reason, it’s perhaps also more likely that Michael Carrick will play in this game. Mourinho has preferred a 4-2-3-1 system with Pogba and Herrera at the base in the last few weeks, and would therefore have no reason to rest the 35-year-old ahead of that game. His experience and defensive style would also be well suited to this match.
In the wide areas, Jesse Lingard is another player – like Darmian at left-back – who might not be the best option going forward but his work ethic and defensive qualities should see him start in this kind of game. Marcus Rashford will probably start on the opposite left flank for similar reasons, although he certainly provides plenty of danger in attack.
And even though he probably doesn’t even need to be in the squad for this game, such has been the extent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s involvement this term, it would be a surprise to see him omitted from the team for this one.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Darmian; Carrick, Fellaini, Pogba; Lingard, Ibrahimovic, Rashford.