Manchester United ended last season on a high, winning the only trophy their cabinet lacked, the UEFA Europa League. They enter the 2017/18 edition of the UEFA Champions League as victors of the second-tier competition after a topsy-turvy domestic campaign that saw them finish 6th in the Premier League.
While there were flashes of brilliance last year, Manchester United played out a fairly underwhelming season.
Heading into 2017/18, Manchester United will aim to right the wrongs of last season. Their first litmus test of sorts is against the European Champions, Real Madrid.
Mourinho saw the arrival of Victor Lindelof from Benfica, Romelu Lukaku from Everton and Nemanja Matic from Chelsea. He believes his side is one signing away from competing on all fronts next season.
Let us look at how we can expect Manchester United to turn up against Real Madrid, when the two lock horns at Philip II Arena, Skopje.
#1 David de Gea
This is a no-brainer. While Sergio Romero was fancied by Mourinho in European competitions last season, there is no disputing the fact that de Gea occupies a much superior position in the goalkeeping hierarchy.
His ability to win matches with his saves has strengthened his position as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the world.
He would be expected to take up the mantle of guarding the Manchester United goal.
Rest assured, it won’t be a quiet night for the Spanish shot-stopper.
RB: #25 Antonio Valencia
Antonio Valencia has endeared himself to the Old Trafford faithful over his 8-year stint at the club. His work-rate, commitment and consistency has been a welcome bonus to Mourinho, who has successfully converted him into a marauding full-back. ‘Tony V’ as he is so affectionately called, possesses the rare ability of attacking and defending with equal intensity and for the entire 90 minutes, making him an indispensable asset for the team.
Unless he picks up a knock in the pre-match training session, there is no one else who can start above him at the Right Back position.
CB: #12 Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling looks set to feature as one of the two centre-backs tasked with keeping the Real Madrid attack at bay. While his inclusion may be met with a collective groan from the fans, Mourinho has no other option but to take up this gamble and hope all goes well. Eric Bailly’s 3-game suspension and Phil Jones’ injury woes all point towards Chris Smalling starting the game at the heart of the defence.
CB: #2 Victor Lindelof
Partnering Chris Smalling in defence will be the summer signing from Benfica, Victor Lindelof. Manchester United’s pre-season gave us a glimpse of Victor Lindelof and what he could offer to the team. Termed as a ball-playing, no-nonsense defending centre-back; he looked nervy on the ball and had some questionable positioning errors in the games that he featured in. Seen by many as Jose Mourinho’s preferred CB to partner Eric Bailly, Lindelof could seize the opportunity of performing well against a team like Real Madrid to prove himself to Mourinho and the fans.
LB: #36 Matteo Darmian
While Luke Shaw battles fitness issues to stage a comeback into the team, Matteo Darmian has, to a certain extent, staked his claim on the LB position. A ‘more than reliable’ squad player, Darmian offers defensive solidity to make up for his lack of attacking ability. His only real competition for the spot is Daley Blind, who lacks the pace required by a natural full back and is seen by Mourinho as another option for the CB position.
CM: #16 Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick is the senior-most member of the Manchester United team and has deservedly been named as the captain of the football club. While we may be seeing Carrick in the twilight of his glittering career, his importance cannot be ignored. He provides a strong base to the 3-man midfield Mourinho extensively used last season. Almost acting as a 3rd Center back at times, he possesses the ability to deliver passes that can split the opposition midfield and initiate attacks from deep within his own half.
Nemanja Matic could be brought on later in the second half, but cannot start the game, given his lack of match fitness.
CM: #21 Ander Herrera
Another player to have thrived under Jose Mourinho is the Basque-born genius, Ander Herrera. He was a bit-part player under Louis van Gaal, but it didn’t take Mourinho much time to unleash the hidden gem that was rotting on the bench for the most part of the LvG era. Ander is Mourinho’s midfield destroyer. He has been one of the most important players for Manchester United last season, and many see him continuing his role this season as well.
Apart from his smart interceptions and dogged determination, he was one of United’s most creative outlets, registering 10 assists last season.
CAM: #6 Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba possesses enormous maturity for a 24-year-old. He grew into the United jersey as the season progressed and has been a guaranteed starter for Jose Mourinho. The signing of Nemanja Matic might mean Pogba could be shifted further out to his preferred role of a #10. Weighed down by the hefty price-tag, Paul proved his critics wrong by registering the most passes in the opposition half in the Premier League. He could have had over 20 goals last season, had his efforts on goal not been kept out by the cross-bar.
Paul Pogba has cemented his place as the attacking outlet in the midfield trio and will continue to do so as the season progresses.
RW: #22 Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has proved to be an efficient outlet for Mourinho on the right flank. His ability to take up goal-scoring positions has helped ingratiate him to Jose Mourinho. His successful preseason only goes to strengthen his claim towards a starting spot for this important encounter.
CF: #9 Romelu Lukaku
Signed by Mourinho to bang in the goals week in-week out, Lukaku has an enormous task of emulating Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Signed for a hefty fee of £75 million, the pressure is on the Belgian to deliver instantly. He will be Mourinho’s preferred starter in attack against Real Madrid.
LW: #19 Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford’s fairytale journey to the United first team enters a new chapter as Mourinho has placed a huge amount of trust on the shoulders of the 19-year-old. Expect Rashford to be a regular starter, as his lung-bustling pace and finishing ability is too good to be wasted on the bench.
Mourinho is spoilt for choice and can play him in numerous positions, even as a second striker to Romelu Lukaku, making him a guaranteed name on the team-sheet.
The team can be expected to line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, as depicted below.