The absence of Luke Shaw and Donny van de Beek from the Manchester United squad for tonight’s Europa League match against Real Sociedad means that manager Erik ten Hag may have to rethink his approach to the game.
In our predicted XI published on Tuesday, we argued that there would be 10 changes to the side that began Sunday’s match against Arsenal, with Antony being kept in the side to gain more match fitness and help his integration.
However, United are short of experienced midfield options if all three regular starters – McTominay, Eriksen and Fernandes – are rested.
This has caused a number of reporters to speculate that youngsters such as Zidane Iqbal, Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Kobbie Mainoo would be handed starting berths, but we think this is unlikely.
Whilst Ten Hag appears to have great faith in these young stars, he is unlikely to unleash them against the strongest opponents in this Europa League group from the start of the match.
This means that players he would otherwise have chosen to rest are more likely to start the game and that Ten Hag will hope to build a good lead by early in the second half so that the youngsters can then replace them, the best of both worlds where the first team regulars can put their feet up while the youngsters get theirs under the table.
Shaw’s absence will almost certainly mean Tyrell Malacia is one of the first teamers who will be pressed into action, simply because there are few other options at left back.
Alex Telles has been loaned out to Sevilla and Alvaro Fernandez to Preston.
Ahead of Malacia, Jadon Sancho could also be selected to start again. He has been kept relatively fresh by Ten Hag, having been regularly subbed in successive Premier League games. The obvious alternative, Anthony Elanga, has put in some extremely toothless performances so far this season and so the prospect of fielding the better player and continuing the process of building his understanding with the Dutch full back makes more sense.
Alejandro Garnacho could replace Sancho on the hour mark if United are in a winning position.
It seems fairly certain that Casemiro and Fred will star in midfield but without Van de Beek, the question is which first teamer will be asked to play again. We think the most likely is Fernandes, who Ten Hag will look to replace with Iqbal or Eriksen/McTominay on the hour mark, depending on the score.
Various reports have suggested that starts for Martin Dubravka in goal, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in defence and Cristiano Ronaldo up front are planned as per our Tuesday prediction, which would leave the team looking something like this:
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