Manchester United return home on Wednesday afternoon, as the Red Devils are set to host Rochdale in the 3rd round of the Carabao Cup.
Although midweek matches like this usually lead to complaints from bigger clubs, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will likely be happy to be back on the pitch already, as the team has plenty to work on after losing away to West Ham United last weekend.
At the very least, Wednesday will give fringe players another chance to impress and work their way into the starting lineup.
As mentioned prior, United had their worst performance of the season so far on Sunday, getting completely outplayed by West Ham at the London Stadium, losing 2-0.
It was an ugly start to the contest for both teams, as neither of them could put passes together in the opening moments.
Marcus Rashford was seemingly played through on goal in the 20th minute, getting the ball in behind the Hammers defence.
However, he made a mess of the opportunity, running straight into a defender and losing the ball before getting a shot off.
West Ham would eventually open the scoring right before halftime, as Andriy Yarmolenko volleyed home from the edge of the area.
United really should’ve equalized minutes into the start of the second half. Andreas Pereira got free down the wing and drilled a superb pass across goal, but Juan Mata wasn’t able to make solid enough contact on his shot, so it flew wide of the target.
The away side carved out another big chance from a set-piece, as a loose ball following a corner fell to Harry Maguire, but his effort was brilliantly saved by Lukasz Fabianski.
The Hammers would put the game to bed with five minutes to go, as Aaron Cresswell curled in a free-kick from distance into the top corner, leaving David De Gea with no chance of making the save.
United couldn’t even attempt a late surge, failing to create any chances and eventually losing 2-0.
Rochdale, to be fair, aren’t doing much better, as they have failed to win any of their last four games in all competitions. They currently sit in 17th place in League One, six points ahead of the relegation zone.
They have had a good run in the Carabao Cup. Rochdale started with a home game to fellow League One side Bolton Wanderers, but we’re down 2-1 minutes into the second half. However, the Dale would go on an offensive explosion, scoring four goals in 22 minutes to win 5-2, booking their spot in the next round.
That set up another home matchup, this time with Carlisle United. Rochdale learned their lesson from the last fixture, this time taking an early lead, going up 2-0 in the opening half-hour. Carlisle grabbed one back after a late penalty, but Rochdale held on to advance.
Last time out
This will be the second time United and Rochdale have faced off, with the only other matchup between them coming all the way back in 1986.
That contest came in the 3rd round of a tournament as well but was in the FA Cup instead. In front of around 40,000 at Old Trafford, United took the lead through Frank Stapleton in the 15th minute before Mark Hughes put the tie to bed with a goal of his own, securing Ron Atkinson’s men a spot in the next round.
The Red Devils have been going through an injury crisis as of late, which only got worse when Rashford came off hurt against West Ham.
He obviously won’t be able to feature against Rochdale, and neither will Anthony Martial or Luke Shaw, who have yet to recover from their respective injuries.
Mason Greenwood came down with a case of tonsillitis last week, and it’s unlikely he’ll be back in time for Wednesday night.
However, United did receive some good news, as Solskjaer confirmed Paul Pogba should be ready to play vs Rochdale. The Frenchman might not be able to start, but he’ll likely make an appearance off the bench in preparation for Monday’s massive matchup vs Arsenal.
As for Rochdale, they’ll have star striker Aaron Wilbraham back in the team, with the 39-year-olds experience potentially crucial if they want any chance of causing a massive cup upset.
They might be without Eoghan O’Connell, however, as he came off injured in their last game, and likely won’t recover in time for Wednesday.
Manchester United: Romero, Dalot, Tuanzebe, Jones, Rojo, Andreas, Matic, Fred, Chong, Lingard, Gomes
Rochdale: Sanchez, Matheson, McNulty, Magloire, Norrington-Davies, Jordan, Rathbone, Dooley, Camps, Pyke, Henderson
What to watch for
Who will play up top?
United are in an absolute mess when it comes to the striker position.
As mentioned prior, Martial, Greenwood, and Rashford will all be unavailable for selection on Wednesday night.
Those three are the only actual centre forwards at the club at the moment, so Solskjaer will have to play someone out of position against Rochdale.
If he decides to go with a false nine formation, then Juan Mata would be a great candidate for that role. He’s not got any pace at this point, but him dropping deeper negates that, highlighting his immense technical ability instead.
Jesse Lingard was subbed on up top against West Ham when Rashford came off injured, and he might be the man to lead the line.
The Englishman lacks talent in the final third, but he can make smart runs, opening up space for his more able teammates.
There’s even a chance either Tahith Chong or Angel Gomes get to start up top, as it will allow them to stay forward and not have to worry about tracking back defensively.
It’s luckily a low-pressure situation for Solskjaer, but he’ll have to figure out something to make sure United don’t get embarrassingly beaten by lower league opposition.