Erik ten Hag got his team selection wrong for the Aston Villa defeat – if you want more energy from your team you need to play the midfield most suited to a high-intensity press, especially without Bruno Fernandes. He can’t make the same mistake twice in a row.
Manchester United already have two extra fixtures in the second half of the season with the Europa League play-offs – games United must win.
And with the top four race running close and United dropping many unnecessary points already – Ten Hag is now out of choices to make.
United must focus on getting into the top four via the league. The performance against Villa highlighted that key players need a rest and that United simply don’t have squad players in form or with the ability to influence games.
Not playing a few extra Carabao Cup games (or FA Cup games, to be honest) in the second half of the season will give United the extra breathing space to fit the two additional Europa League games.
Who knows, maybe the team will get a much-needed breather in March or April when they really need it as well.
With that preamble – here’s who Ten Hag should play in the Carabao Cup game.
Our Recommended Starting Line-Up
Martin Dubravka – Aaron Wan Bissaka – Harry Maguire – Victor Lindelof – Tyrell Malacia – Scott McTominay – Fred – Donny van de Beek – Facundo Pellistri – Alejandro Garnacho – Cristiano Ronaldo.
With Antony unlikely to be fit for Sunday, it’s worth holding Anthony Elanga back for that game.
Diogo Dalot, Casemiro, Lisandro Martinez, and Christian Eriksen all need a rest, while these are the type of games Malacia needs in order to improve.
Dalot is unavailable for Sunday due to suspension (accumulating five yellow cards) so there’s a chance he starts this game with Bissaka getting on in the second half. However, we would rather see Bissaka start so he has enough minutes under his belt before he starts on the weekend.
Up front – Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are better kept back for the weekend (although we can expect to see cameos from them) and while we would love to see more youngsters play in midfield, they’re clearly not ready, and both Scott McTominay and Fred absolutely need to be playing to counter Villa’s intensity.
Should Van de Beek start? If he’s going to play well someday for United, he needs to be at least playing these games.
Should Dubravka start? We’d be happy with David De Gea starting as well – the goalkeeper doesn’t need a break and he’s not going to the World Cup, so it doesn’t matter much.
However – if you’ve brought in a back-up keeper – this is the time to play him.
Should Garnacho be rested? There’s a chance Shola Shoretire could be played, or one of Facundo Pellistri and Elanga are played on the left and Garnacho sat out, but it will depend on how fit Rashford and Martial are. If those two are expected to play 75-90 minutes on the weekend, hold them back and let Garnacho play the game midweek.
If Ronaldo isn’t fit, we would rather put in Charlie McNeil than play Martial or Rashford, although we suspect Ten Hag will want to play a senior player.
United have lost too many points in the league – sitting fifth in the league table when we should be third and looking at the title race. The manager is out of options in squad selection – he simply must rotate and rest players with the weekend game in mind. Ten Hag has been ruthless with his squad selection at times, he needs to be similarly ruthless when it comes to cup games this season.
And unless United start playing their younger players, those players are not going to get the pressure and experience they need to prove that they belong at the club.
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