The Red Devils haven’t been greatly troubled by either LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake in the opening two matches of pre-season, José Mourinho’s men winning those contests 5-2 and 2-1 respectively, but will have a much tougher test up against Pep Guardiola’s City in this International Champions Cup clash.
An opportunity to impress
Mourinho essentially used those matches as fitness exercises, rotating so heavily that two entirely different teams were fielded for a half of each game.
Similar will apply against City, although the 54-year-old boss is instead aiming to ring the changes at the hour mark, rather than at half-time. He told the club’s official website that “some players can play 60 minutes against 60 minutes,” while others will have “30 minutes against Real Madrid and vice versa.” United face the La Liga and Champions League holders on Sunday night.
So, against the upcoming tougher opponents, Mourinho might just look into these games more so than the last two, even if they are just friendlies. David de Gea was uninvolved against RSL last time out, so perhaps he’ll return in goal against City.
Ahead of him, Mourinho may continue trialling more potential central defensive partnerships as he has done so far on tour, but this seems like a good time to allow Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf to be partnered together once more – given they look like the boss’ two favoured players in the position.
Axel Tuanzebe should be first in line for some more minutes, having only come on as an injury time substitute last time out, so could start at right-back while Daley Blind occupies the left-back role, since Matteo Darmian suffered a minor knock in the previous game.
A stronger midfield?
It hasn’t just been in defence where Mourinho has looked to try out different combinations of players. Indeed, in midfield, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are yet to play together while on tour this summer, such has been the manager's rotation, but that should change against City.
As for who plays alongside them, it’ll be a matter of formation. Again, Mourinho has tried different options in this regard, so far deploying a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 while on tour, so will he change again this time around? If so, the only other formation we’ve seen him use at United is 4-3-3, so that would mean an extra man at the base of the midfield – likely one of Marouane Fellaini or Michael Carrick.
That would leave three in attack, which will likely be spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku – he and Pogba can only benefit from more time on the pitch together ahead of the new campaign. Marcus Rashford hasn’t yet played out on the flanks while on tour so may take the wide left berth, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan – who’s scored in both friendly games this month – could line up on the opposite flank.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Lindelöf, Blind; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Lukaku, Rashford.