Manchester United face a familiar foe as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side lock horns with the Rams of Derby County for the seventh time in eleven years. These two will be sick of the sight of each other with last season’s Carabao Cup KO on penalties still fresh in the mind of many of us Reds. That night pitted Jose Mourinho against his pupil Frank Lampard, but both clubs are now under the tutelage of differing managerial regimes.
But there’s only one name on everyone’s lips as Wayne Rooney – United’s former captain and record goalscorer – returns to face his former employers. You just know he’ll pop up and score against us! Familiarity, does indeed, breed contempt.
Coming as it does three days from a pivotal Manchester derby, Solskjaer will make changes but is still likely to pick a strong side at Pride Park as he chases a first trophy as United boss. Here is what we think his selection may look like on Thursday as United bid for a place in the quarter finals for the sixth successive season.
GK – Sergio Romero
Just when the scrutiny over David de Gea rears its ugly head again, along comes a chance for him to be taken out the firing line. De Gea atoned for his error with three top stops at Goodison Park, but that didn’t stop the critics queuing up to bash him. As United head to the Midlands, we expect our trusty number two to step into the breach as he so often does in the cup ties. Romero is a good ‘keeper and is very experienced – perfect for nights such as this when the Championship side take on a Premier League big gun with the smell of a possible upset.
RB – Diogo Dalot
Dalot has not played much due to a combination of injury and the continued excellent of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. AWB could be rested with the City derby on the horizon, and if he is then Dalot would likely deputise. Appearances have been few and far between for the Portuguese this season – only eight in total – but he’s a good squad player to have at your disposal and is better going forward than he is defensively. Jason Knight, Martyn Waghorn and Tom Lawrence might give Dalot a testing night at the office. Dalot played as a wing-back in the last round at Tranmere but in a 4-2-3-1 system here, he will revert to a more familiar right-back position.
CB – Harry Maguire (c)
How United have needed a player like Maguire. Everton had 13 corners at Goodison on Sunday, but Maguire seemed drawn like a magnet to every one of them. A commanding, physical leader, Maguire has been nothing short of superb for a while now. On a night when the Reds renew hostilities with an ageing but still dangerous Wayne Rooney, Maguire will be tasked with shackling the Old Trafford legend as United skippers past and present go toe-to-toe. The captaincy has elevated Maguire’s game to another level; instead of dragging him down he is revelling in the role.
CB – Eric Bailly
We could have gone with Victor Lindelof here, but I felt he was the weak line on Sunday and Bailly’s athleticism is better suited to the cause, here. Bailly has only played twice since his long injury lay off but has hardly put a foot wrong and could play himself into contention for a derby day start in this one. Axel Tuanzebe is nearing full fitness, but this match will come too soon so it’s a straight toss up between the Iceman or the Ivorian. I love his heart-on-the-sleeve all action style, even if does give me palpitations, but there’s a very good defender in him if he can stay fit.
LB – Brandon Williams
It’s harsh on Luke Shaw to be dropped as he’s played very well recently amidst the added competition from Williams. Shaw has come in for the last three games having previously been rotated with his younger compatriot. I think Solskjaer is more likely to give Shaw the nod for the derby and play Williams here, unless he deploys a back three again and both play. Shaw has had an injury plagued season but its good to have two equally capable full-backs. Former United winger Tom Lawrence is set to keep whichever left-back busy.
CDM – Fred
What can you say about this man? Its almost as if the player we saw last season wasn’t Fred at all, rather an impostor. The diminutive Brazilian has been simply sensational of late, stopping attacks, making interceptions, passing between the lines, working the channels, linking play and adding goals to his game. He’s undroppable and I, have to admit, I was wrong about him. His confidence has soared with a regular run of games and is he making a late charge into contention for our Player or the Season? Rooney plays deeper in midfield now so is likely to become familiar with Fred as the match unfolds. You simply can’t take him out of the side at the moment.
CDM – Nemanja Matic
That leads us in nicely to the position alongside him in defensive central midfield in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1. He tried a diamond at Goodison Park by dovetailing Scott McTominay in alongside Fred and Matic. It worked in part, but I don’t like it and Ole definitely should avoid playing in a similar system here. It’s a real headache deciding who gets the nod and it’s a tough call to drop McSauce, a player I rate highly. I never thought I’d pick Matic over McTominay in any United side, but again – like Fred – Matic doesn’t deserve to be dropped. You can’t take him out the team. Even though I’m not the Serbian’s biggest fan, he has been colossal of late and ran the show at Goodison Park. With the derby with City looming, the only question mark is whether he’s got the legs for three games in a week? For that reason, Ole could be tempted to save Matic for the weekend, but we think its harsh to drop him so he keeps his place.
RW – Juan Mata
It’s a similar story here, too. Dan James missed the draw with Everton but needed a rest anyway. He is set to return in this one against opponents from the league he was plying his trade in last year. Andreas Pereira – just no – or Mata are the other options and, in a game where space will be at a premium and Derby sit in deep, Mata’s lock picking abilities are perfect for this. James can come on later with pace to burn, but we’re giving Mata the nod with the Spaniard having made the match winning difference against Wolves in round three. A good squad player, Mata starts.
CAM – Bruno Fernandes
Five games. Four man of the match awards. Six assists, three goals. I can’t ever remember a player making this big an impact in such a short space of time. Just imagine where we’d be if we had signed this man in the summer like we should have done. Quite simply magnificent, Fernandes has already become this side’s most important player. Thanks to him, Jesse Lingard and Pereira get nowhere the team and even Paul Pogba is going to struggle to get back in the team – if indeed he even does? We love Fernandes already. How will he do against lower league opposition under the lights in his first taste of the FA Cup?
LW – Mason Greenwood
Greenwood has played more than he perhaps thought he might in a breakthrough campaign. Sadly, he failed to seize his big opportunity as he was thrust into the team against Everton away from home. It didn’t work for him in his most ineffective showing so far, but the system did him no favours – United played with split strikers and he popped up in three different positions. A generational talent, his ability is without question and he will surely get another chance here having started in all three of United’s FA Cup ties so far.
ST – Anthony Martial
Like Greenwood, Martial was forced to the fringes at Goodison Park in another indifferent showing. To be fair, he was more the victim of an alien system than his own shortcomings. No doubt, Martial is the most infuriating player at the club and continues to delight and despair in equal measure. 15 goals for the season is a good return for a player who isn’t a natural number nine, he scored in the last round at Tranmere and netted in three successive games against Chelsea, the away goal in Brugge and a filthy finish in the win over Watford. Odion Ighalo offers United something different but we expect him to be on the bench again here, ready for action if needed, having started one game so far. The rumours of another Martial injury turned out not to be true and he will lead the line again here.
United come into this one in fine form and on an eight-game unbeaten run having not lost since January. United won 3-1 on our last cup visit to the Midlands on our way to Wembley glory under LVG in 2016. An omen perhaps? Among the scorers that night was a certain chap by the name of Rooney and it still seems odd to see him in the white shirt of another English side and not the red of United. A tough tie awaits but the Fernandes factor and United’s Premier League experience will shine through. We’re going for a repeat of that 2016 encounter with Bruno to score for the fourth game in a row – Derby County 1-3 Man Utd.