Something tells us Jose Mourinho isn’t feeling to confident about his side’s trip to Middlesbrough on Sunday. He’s already claimed his side will ‘probably lose‘ at the Riverside Stadium because of Manchester United’s hectic fixture schedule, playing three times in the space of seven days.
To make matters worse, Boro look almost certain to put in a strong performance after Aitor Karanka’s dismissal from the dugout earlier this week, whereas Mourinho will be without three of his key players – suspended duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera and injured midfielder Paul Pogba.
Whilst the Portuguese has a few alternatives to choose from up front, the engine room could prove to be the real problem area. Herrera and Pogba have been vital to United’s efforts all season and with Bastian Schweinsteiger not in Mourinho’s Premier League squad, backup options are a little thin on the ground.
But United’s squad is nothing if not vast and versatile, so we’ve taken a look at three midfield setups Mourinho must consider for the Boro clash.
Jose Mourinho has preferred a 4-2-3-1 setup to the 4-3-3 formation utilised earlier in the season in recent weeks, so the obvious suggestion is Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick coming into the side to operate as a deep-lying two behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is starting to make the No.10 role his own. But the Belgium international and the occasional England man have never quite been on the same wavelength when partnered in the engine room, both lacking the mobility to keep possession flowing with short and sharp movements around the centre circle. It was a problem under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, so Mourinho will be wary of making the same mistake – although Mkhitaryan in front should give them a dynamic out-ball when needed.
Mourinho will be wary of facing a side who’ve just changed managers and will feel like the leash has been taken off following Aitor Karanka’s departure, having netted just 19 Premier League goals with the Spaniard at the helm. Also away from home, the United gaffer’s pragmatic instincts may take over, especially considering how solid Boro have been defensively this season, as he looks to etch out a vital three points on the road. Should he take that approach, we could see Phil Jones join Fellaini and Carrick in midfield; he’s played the role before and started as the anchorman against Chelsea on Monday night before moving into defence.
As previously mentioned, Mourinho may feel Carrick and Fellaini lack the right ingredients to operate as effectively as a midfield two, but another element in a three-man engine room could gloss over their weaknesses. He’s not a natural centre-mid but Jesse Lingard did fill in there at times under Louis van Gaal and certainly has the industriousness for the role, whilst his mobility and flair could cover up for what Fellaini and Carrick lack in those departments. The England international hasn’t been in the best form this season, however, and such a selection gamble could cost United away from home.