Manchester United travel to the Etihad on Thursday looking to close the gap on rivals Man City and close in on the Premier League top four.
Jose Mourinho’s side have been just outside of those Champions League places for the majority of the season, but will fancy their chances of leapfrogging City and/or Liverpool as the season draws to a close.
However, their remaining fixtures will be tough to navigate, and Mourinho has already stated that he would value winning the Europa League more than finishing fourth in the table. That said, he is unlikely to concede Thursday’s derby quite so easily (not least because it is against fierce rival Pep Guardiola), and will still pick a very competitive team.
Unfortunately, injuries have begun taking a toll on this squad, with Paul Pogba now confirmed as another absentee With that in mind (and with those already injured), what are the options available to Mourinho and Man United in a derby that will have a huge bearing on the title race?
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Speculation regarding the Spanish international’s future aside, De Gea is still at Old Trafford – and while he is still there, he is still number one. Rotation in the team is likely, but with Sergio Romero seemingly being used as the European goalkeeper, it would be a massive surprise if De Gea did not start against City.
Defence: Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian
Man United are experiencing something of a crisis at the centre of defence, with Marcos Rojo joining Chris Smalling and Phil Jones on the treatment table. Mourinho’s attempts to shame the English duo back to fitness haven’t worked, so he’s likely to pair Daley Blind with Eric Bailly once again (with Axel Tuanzebe used as cover).
Antonio Valencia will return at right-back having sat out Sunday’s win at Burnley, while one gets the sense that the manager still doesn’t quite trust Luke Shaw so expect Matteo Darmian (or possibly even Ashley Young) to start at left-back.
Midfield: Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera
Pep Guardiola has been talking Michael Carrick up in a big way this week, and Paul Pogba’s absence could allow the veteran to make his first Premier League start since the 4th of April. Mourinho could operate with Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Jesse Lingard in a more attacking role in the centre but history suggests that he is likely to be more conservative and perhaps utilise a defensive midfielder.
Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, however, are pretty much nailed-on to start provided there are are no late fitness issues with either.
Forwards: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford
Even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata injured, Mourinho still has plenty to choose from up front. Wayne Rooney returned to the starting lineup at Turf Moor last weekend, and was back among the goals, but his days as a regular starter at Man United are long over.
Anthony Martial will be pushing for a role having scored his first goal in over two months at the weekend, but Mourinho likes Lingard and it would not be a shock to see the French international back on the bench. Mkhitaryan is likely to start on the right, but Ashley Young’s surprise call-up in the win against Chelsea suggests that the Armenian shouldn’t be taking that for granted.
Marcus Rashford, meanwhile, will almost certainly return to the starting lineup having been rested at the weekend.
Joining us on the Mixer football podcast this week is Shamrock Rovers defender Roberto Lopes, in addition to our usual review of the latest round of League of Ireland action.