I’d love to be more positive heading into this one, but it feels like a meeting of two clubs at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to momentum.
Ok, Man Utd haven’t been all that convincing in their last two, drawing at Southampton before coming away with an unconvincing 1-0 win at Wolves, however they have Cristiano Ronaldo ready for his second debut, a full crowd bound to be in good voice and French star Raphael Varane starting his first game at Old Trafford.
As for us, we’ll be without our talisman Callum Wilson, are yet to win this season – throwing away a lead in the 96th minute last time out – have conceded eight goals in our three games and have a manager who seemed utterly cheesed off in his Friday morning presser….a few days after he snuck off to Portugal for a bit of sun.
If our poor start to the season wasn’t sobering enough, we are now suffering a hangover from a disastrous end to the summer transfer window – adding to the misery and frustration that had already been lingering around this ghost ship of a club that simply seeks to exist these days.
It’d be great to spoil the party and surprise those expecting Ronaldo to rip through our struggling defence, yet it’s hard to see that happening for a whole host of reasons, sadly.
- Callum Wilson – Ruled out with a thigh strain. Bruce reckons he’ll be missing for a few weeks.
- Ryan Fraser – Ruled out after twisting his ankle while away with Scotland.
- Miguel Almiron – Eligible to play, despite Paraguay’s complaint to FIFA.
- Karl Darlow – Back in contention after training over the past 10 days – but will he be fit enough to start?
- Isaac Hayden – Should return after training over the international break.
- Jonjo Shelvey – Remains out with a calf injury.
- Martin Dubravka – Still out with an infected foot following surgery.
- Paul Dummett – Trained prior to the Southampton game but was absent from Thursday’s session.
- Elliot Anderson – Back in training after missing our entire pre-season programme.
For the hosts, Cristiano Ronaldo is fit and ready to start says OGS, while Fred could yet be eligible to play – despite Brazil’s complaint to FIFA after the no-show over the international break.
Marcus Rashford, Scott Mctominay, Alex Telles and Dean Henderson are all edging closer to full fitness, but all four are expected to sit this one out.
Predicted line up
(5-3-2): Woodman – Murphy, Fernandez, Lascelles, Schar, Ritchie – Hayden, Willock, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.
With this in mind, we’re going for two changes. Wilson and Sean Longstaff out, Joelinton and Hayden in.
Joelinton starting seems likely based on the fact he’s been the one Bruce has called on from the bench in each of our three league games so far.
As for Hayden, we need to be strong in midfield if we’re to have any chance in this one, so it may well be Longstaff that drops out given Willock and Almiron appear to be first choice options when fit.
Saying that, it may be harsh to leave Longstaff out given he did little wrong when coming on at Villa, also being one of our better players in the 2-2 draw with Southampton.
Our defence continued to look disorganised and all at sea in that game, but I’m not sure Bruce has any better options that Lascelles, Fernandez and Schar right now. The latter isn’t suited to playing on the left-side of a three, but he could keep his place if Dummett still isn’t ready to return.
Regular defensive lapses from Ritchie and Murphy could open the door for Lewis and Manquillo before too long. I’d be tempted to start the latter after he impressed against Burnley, but Murphy is one of our main ball-carriers on the break – even if he’s becoming an easy target at the other end.
In goal, Darlow is back in contention – which is great to see after his battle with Covid – but I can’t see him being thrown straight back in; especially when Woodman has done little wrong in his absence.
If I’m being brutally honest, I don’t think I’ve gone into a game feeling less optimistic for a long time – and that says a lot when we’ve rarely had reason to believe under Steve Bruce!
I think Saint-Maximin and Joelinton could show flashes up top and hope Almiron and Murphy’s pace can cause problems on the counter, but just don’t see us coping with the constant waves of attacks this Man Utd side are likely to throw at us.
A Ronaldo goal feels inevitable – whether he starts up top or comes on to a rousing reception from the bench – yet they have plenty others who are capable of doing damage in Fernandes, Pogba, Greenwood and Shaw.
Hoping to spoil the party. Fearing a real beating.
Prediction: Man Utd 4-1 Newcastle