A question on many Manchester United supporter’s minds, is how the Red Devils’ starting lineup will look. Manager Louis Van Gaal has a tough decision ahead of him, but after the club’s US Tour, his selection for the starting eleven has been made easier based on player performance.
Even though an ankle injury to Michael Carrick and fitness concerns for Robin Van Persie will leave them out of United’s first game, midfielder Darren Fletcher and streaky striker Danny Welbeck will look to be replacements for the two.
The following list evaluates a possible Manchester United starting XI assuming all players healthy and in form.
This system has worked wonders for Van Gaal as coach for both the Netherlands at the World Cup and Manchester United on the Preseason Tour.
The system entails players that are willing to work together to advance the ball and keep it in the opposing team’s half of the pitch.
Without players who are willing to keep possession and attack on offense, gaps of space could open on both flanks for the opposing team.
However, Van Gaal can easily switch the formation to a 4-3-3 as seen in the second half against heated rivals Liverpool in the International Champions Cup Final.
Thus, Van Gaal’s freedom to choose which formation will work best for the squad will prove to be a challenge for opposing sides.
#1- Goalkeeper: David De Gea
A no-brainer for the Dutch manager. De Gea has proved his worth with incredible and acrobatic saves and taking firm control of the defensive back-line.
The Spanish goalkeeper has erased any doubts of his goalkeeping abilities and looks to be the Red Devils’ main goalkeeper for many more years to come.
#2- Right-Centre Back: Phil Jones
This position will be a tough one for Van Gaal to evaluate and select because none of United’s defenders have been accustomed to such a role. Rafael would be a good fit, but an ankle injury will prevent him from starting.
Jones is a versatile defender with great strength and poise. For a 22-year old he already has seen a fair amount of time of Premier League action. An injury sidelined for much of last season, so Jones will be looking to bounce back and prove to Van Gaal that he is the man for the job.
Jones must use his defensive knowledge and power while improving on his passing and ball control skills to find success this upcoming season.
#3- Centre-Back: Chris Smalling
The England international will have to be in top form to be able to retain a starting spot in the lineup.
Known for sloppy footwork and lack of acceleration, Smalling will have to quickly improve on his weaknesses to be regular in Van Gaal’s line-up.
His height and physicality allow him to win headers with frequency and challenge attackers with the ball at their feet. The England international must find a way to combine tenacity and composure to be a top class defender for the Red Devils.
#4- Left-Centre Back: Johnny Evans
Not the most glamorous choice on this squad’s lineup, but he has proven himself under pressure. Even though Evans does not get as many opportunities to play as Jones or Smalling, the Northern Irishman can adjust to his new role under Van Gaal.
His footwork needs definite improvement, but his tackling, passing, and heading abilities are more than adequate. His toughness and mentality also set him apart on the pitch from other players.
He must continue to work and develop his skills to enhance his style of play and become a prominent factor in United’s quest for a Premier League title.
#5- Left-Winger: Luke Shaw
One month ago, Luke Shaw was a lock for the starting position. But after concerns about his fitness and the stellar play of Ashley Young in the left-winger role on the preseason tour, the former Southampton left full-back has to be worried.
At his best, Shaw can drive the ball forward while making his presence felt on the defensive side of the pitch with confident tackles and great positioning to limit through ball opportunities.
Shaw, the £28 million 19-year old, will have to learn to deal with pressure and play top-class football with one of the biggest clubs on the planet.
#6- Defensive Midfielder: Michael Carrick
Carrick has been given the nod to start in defensive midfield for his experience and stability that he provides. If Carrick wee to return from injury in top form and with great health, he would step into a demanding role that would require him to be involved in all facets of the game.
Even though Carrick does not have the same level of playmaking abilities as Juan Mata, Carrick has proven that he can make the crucial pass or tackle when necessary.
#7- Centre Midfielder: Ander Herrera
The new United signee has arrived to Old Trafford with a lot of hype surrounding him.
The Spanish youngster can make lethal and accurate passes while being a big and important contributor to offense and defense. Herrera has to learn how to play in top form week in and week out for United to be a top contender in the Premier League.
#8- Right-Winger: Antonio Valencia
The speedy Ecuadorian has superb crossing abilities and is force to be reckon with because of his size and aggressiveness.
Even though his form has dipped and he has passed his prime, the 28-year old can still show flashes of brilliance when he gets into open spaces. His contribution to both sides of the ball will provide needed help to United’s back line.
#9- Centre-Forward: Wayne Rooney
The English international has done so much for the Red Devils since arriving from Everton in 2004. But playing alongside van Persie has been a challenge for Rooney as he has seen his roles change in various ways, which as led to a dip in shot attempts and goals scored.
But Van Gaal’s system may do Rooney tremendous favors because of the plethora of chances that will be created. Furthermore at the World Cup, the Netherlands’ two most potent strikers, van Persie and Arjen Robben, worked together for a total tally of seven goals.
United fans should be optimistic of Rooney’s potential in this new formation.
#10- Attacking Midfielder: Juan Mata
In Mata’s glory days at Chelsea, he would be a vital and instrumental midfielder playing behind Didier Drogba and either Salomon Kalou or Fernando Torres.
Mata can be the talisman that United has been looking for since the departure of Ryan Giggs. The Spanish international has also stated that he plays his best brand of football when playing behind two strikers.
United can only hope that the 26-year old can show his playmaking and creative abilities in pursuit of attacking and creating chances for goals.
#11- Centre-Forward: Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie must be the happiest player on the United roster.
Not only does the Dutch sticker get to play for his World Cup coach, but also the formation that Manchester United will play in under Van Gaal will bring out only the best in van Persie as seen in his four World Cup goals in seven games.
Even though van Persie’s career may be winding down, playing in Van Gaal’s system may prolong his career.