Predicting an Erik ten Hag lineup usually throws up one or two questions, but for tomorrow’s Carabao Cup match against Crystal Palace, almost every single position poses a dilemma.
Ten Hag generally plays something approximating his strongest XI regardless of the competition and opposition and he certainly will want to build on the stuttering momentum of his first win in four games by kicking on against the Eagles at Old Trafford.
On the other hand, with so many injuries and matches coming thick and fast in this period, resting key players and the timing of returns from injury also require careful management.
In goal, there is a case for handing a debut to new signing Altay Bayindir, who may or may not have been promised a place in domestic cup matches when he signed for the club. It would also make sense to give him some experience in case he is needed for “bigger” games. On the other hand, Andre Onana is still bedding in and getting to know his defence so it’s a little early to rest him.
We think the Ten Hag “strongest XI” mentality will prevail and Onana will keep his place.
With Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia out and doubts over Harry Maguire, Sergio Reguilon and Lisandro Martinez, United’s defence is threadbare to say the least. There are also no obvious youngsters knocking at the door for a debut, although Rhys Bennett is returning from injury and is one Ten Hag has his eye on.
Although Reguilon left the pitch against Burnley on Saturday holding his hamstring, Ten Hag insisted he had been feeling unwell, so hopefully he will be able to resume at left back, with Diogo Dalot at right back.
Without knowing the fitness status of Martinez and Maguire, it’s hard to predict the centre back partnership. Despite Jonny Evans’ heroics against Burnley, a Varane-Lindelof partnership looks the strongest on paper. Update: Harry Maguire is also now an option as he has rejoined training.
In midfield, there are more options. Mason Mount is believed to be close to a return and Kobbie Mainoo is also back in training. Donny van de Beek, Dan Gore and Hannibal are all also floating around the periphery of the first team, with the latter doing well in his first Premier League start on Saturday. Sofyan Amrabat made a 5-minute cameo debut in that game as well, then there are the stalwarts, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Scott McTominay.
It would make sense to rest Casemiro for this one and give Amrabat his full debut. He could partner Eriksen, who was rested/dropped against Burnley after a poor showing against Bayern last Wednesday. If fit enough, Mainoo could get some minutes off the bench.
Captain Bruno Fernandes never misses a game so is likely to continue and revert to the favoured number 10 position.
Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Hojlund could be rested, with Alejandro Garnacho and Anthony Martial coming in. This leaves the right wing. Mason Mount could be fit enough to get the nod there, or Facundo Pellistri could be tried again despite also disappointing in Germany.
Another option is a formation change with the largely ineffective McTominay padding out the midfield at the expense of one of the wing men.
With all that in mind, here is our predicted line up for tomorrow’s game: