With the international break now over, the season starts to really pick up. Manchester United get their Champions League campaign underway on Wednesday night, travelling to Switzerland to face Young Boys. It will be from this point in the season where squad depth comes into all managers’ minds. On paper, this is United’s easiest opposition in Group H. But with six wins from six domestically, Young Boys will not be a pushover. I look at how Mourinho will possibly set up, the key and my prediction for the game.
How will United Line-up?
The only change to the line-up from the win at Watford on Saturday was Ashley Young, replacing the concussed Luke Shaw. Jose Mourinho has already confirmed that Shaw will return on Wednesday. Antonio Valencia limped off at Vicarage Road which could lead to Young switching sides. There is a chance Mourinho will opt for Diogo Dalot after he came through another appearance for the under 23s in midweek. However, this does not seem the right time to give the Portuguese youngster his debut.
When deciding his team, Mourinho will consider the surface. Young Boys play on an artificial pitch, something United will not be used to for games. However, they would have prepared for this game on similar surfaces so shouldn’t be an excuse. Mourinho seems settled on providing the back four more protection by deploying Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic in front of them. A formula that has seen two strong away wins in a row. With Matic suspended for the game with Wolves, maybe Mourinho will opt to rest Fellaini and replace him with Ander Herrera to ensure the Belgian is fit for the weekend. With the season only five games old, there is no other reason to be resting any players and Mourinho will want to go in at full strength.
Key tactical decisions
United should be far too strong for their opponents but would expect Mourinho to deploy a counter-attack approach to the game. In the last 15 minutes against Watford, United were set up in a similar fashion as the home side pushed for an equaliser. On Saturday, the manager chose to bring off Jesse Lingard, and more notably Alexis Sanchez. The change of the latter could be a key tactical change for this game.
Sanchez had a bad start to his United career since joining in January. His statistics at the start of this suggest he has failed to improve. In three starts and a substitute appearance, he has mustered up no goals, just the 1 assist and a pass completion of under 74%.
I don’t envisage Mourinho not starting him on Wednesday night, but there is a case for a change. Mourinho will have Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford available, both would offer more pace and directness on the counter. If Mourinho looks back to the game at the Emirates last season, United countered as well as they have for years. The trio of Romelu Lukaku, Martial and Lingard were devastating that day. They could well be the key on Wednesday and going forward.
Need for a plan B in midfield
Ander Herrera has been used as the midfield destroyer for the past two seasons. Mourinho has now opted to use Fellaini as that option in the past two games. Watford and Burnley are two of the most direct and physical sides in the league and Mourinho got his tactics spot on by deploying more height and physicality. He is likely to follow suit on Wednesday, but with the artificial pitch, he may need a plan B.
Young Boys could use a more technical passing style, with the ball remaining on the deck more than the last two games. Matic nor Fellaini are the most mobile of midfielders and there could be a case for Herrera coming in to the midfield to improve on that. He would also provide an upgrade on Fellaini’s passing ability when United are in attack. When playing on the break, this is an important route to success. Comparing the two players from last season, Herrera averaged more interceptions and won more tackles per game. Herrera also had a superior pass completion despite playing nearly double the number of minutes as the Belgian.
Mourinho will need to determine how Young Boys will play in attack and potentially change his current tactic. I doubt it will be from the start, but he may need another option at half time if things are not going United’s way.
This should be a comfortable three points. But I thought that against Brighton too. United have improved in recent weeks, especially going forward. But in truth, they ultimately hung on for the win at Vicarage Road on Saturday. One thing that is certain, failure to pick up three points will make qualifying from the group an uphill battle. With trips to Turin and Valencia to come, this is a must win. I think they will pick up three points, but United’s record in Switzerland is poor, so it is far from guaranteed.