United complete their Premier League fixture list for the season on Sunday afternoon when they welcome Watford to Old Trafford for a game which now has little of consequence resting on the result. The Red Devils confirmed their league runners-up status with the point taken from Thursday’s sterile 0-0 draw with West Ham United at the London Stadium, a game which will not live long in the memory.
The Hornets arrive after an indifferent season which promised much in September (when Brazilian ‘new boy’ Richarlison looked incapable of putting a boot wrong!) but by Christmas had regressed to a campaign of trying to avoid getting sucked into the relegation squabble immediately below them. As is seemingly always the case at Vicarage Road, the managerial “merry-go-round” was again much in evidence as Marco Silva departed ignominiously, to be replaced by Spaniard Javi Gracia in January, and Gracia himself is by no means certain to retain his position beyond this game.
All thoughts at the Club will, of course, be focused on next Saturday’s F.A. Cup Final clash with Chelsea, and with nothing of significance resting on this match, I would imagine there will be a fair bit of player rotation in evidence. Jose Mourinho probably has his preferred starting XI for the Final already firmed up in his mind, though there may be a chance for someone to play himself “in” or indeed “out” of that line-up during this game with Watford! One player who will be lauded by the United faithful, and rightly so, is retiring veteran midfield ace Michael Carrick. Michael will captain the side in this game, his last ever competitive outing for United, and I imagine he will get a tremendous reception from the fans.
Here is my team selection for this game: (fluid 4-3-2-1)
GK: David de Gea – David is probably the first name on Mourinho’s team-sheet for Saturday; yet another clean sheet at West Ham, incredibly his 18th in the Premier League this season, means our No. 1 is the winner of this year’s “Golden Glove” award! Thoroughly well-deserved for a lad who is now as good a keeper as we’ve had since big Peter Schmeichel was ‘between the sticks’! Despite rumours that David might be rested for next Saturday’s Cup Final game, I’d give him the chance to make it 19 clean sheets for the season.
RB: Matteo Darmian – Tony Valencia was much more effective against West Ham than he has been for quite a few weeks, showing glimpses of the attacking prowess we know he possesses. However, to avoid any unnecessary injuries ahead of next Saturday, I’d give Darmian a run out; frankly, in my opinion, this should be the last game the Italian ever plays for us as he is simply not good enough to be a Manchester United regular. Come and get him, Juventus!
LB: Luke Shaw – As is becoming the ‘norm’, Luke again demonstrated why he should have been starting more games for United this season with a top-class effort against West Ham, providing a constant outlet on the left wing. In reality, he will probably be overlooked in favour of Ashley Young by Mourinho for the Cup Final line-up, so I’d happily play him in this game. I hope he remains at United but I could more than understand if he wanted to leave.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelöf– Bailly really needs to get some time on the pitch before the F.A. Cup Final and in my opinion should have played in the last two league fixtures; at this stage I would question whether Mourinho intends to play him against Chelsea at all, which would be a very surprising omission. If he wants to stand a chance of selection next Saturday I think he has to play against Watford.
Alongside him, Lindelöf needs game time as well. Chris Smalling looked anything but assured against the physical challenge of Marko Arnautovic on Thursday evening, and at this stage I’d be looking at Phil Jones and Bailly as the defensive partnership for the Chelsea game, but only if Eric plays in this fixture tomorrow. Jones needs “wrapped in cotton wool” ahead of next Saturday!
MFs: Scott McTominay, Michael Carrick & Paul Pogba– Nemanja Matic got a well-earned ‘holiday’ from duties at the London Stadium, and I’d again give the big Serb a ‘day off’ ahead of the Cup Final. McTominay came in and did very well against David Moyes’ men, and I’d happily give the young lad the chance to have the experience of playing one last time with a master like Michael Carrick.
What more needs said about Michael?! The man has been a superb servant to Manchester United, and it was no surprise that Mourinho wanted the big Geordie to join his coaching staff at Old Trafford this summer. I hope he gets a tremendous ovation; one of the best passers of a football you will ever see. I still smile when I recall his wonder-strike in the 7-1 drubbing of A.S. Roma at Old Trafford back in 2007!
Pogba almost picks himself, but that has been based more on reputation than performances too many times this season, and Paul could really do with a couple of top-quality showings for United before he heads off to Russia with the French squad next month. He has all the ability in the world…but we need to see it more often.
AMs: Juan Mata (RM) & Anthony Martial (LM) – Juan hasn’t seen much action in the last few weeks, and tomorrow would be a good opportunity to keep him sharp in case we need him next weekend. At home, we should see plenty of possession, and with Carrick in place to make telling passes, Mata’s movement will cause Watford some problems.
Martial’s future at United seems very uncertain right now, with press speculation on a possible summer departure intensifying daily. Whilst I hope Tony knuckles down and remains with us, he will also be keen to show what he can do on the pitch for watching suitors and will also hope to feature in the Cup Final next weekend.
CF: Marcus Rashford– Rashford hasn’t featured as much as we all hoped he might since Romelu Lukaku’s injury, named as only a substitute at West Ham on Thursday evening, coming on late in that 0-0 draw. There remains an outside possibility that Rashford will need to deputise for Lukaku next week, and therefore it is essential that Marcus is fit and as ‘on form’ as he can be given his limited appearance time recently. Put bluntly, he needs to start this game and could do with finding the Watford net a couple of times as well. Lukaku IS rumoured to be fit enough to play tomorrow, but I’d start him on the bench and take no chances with his fitness.
BENCH: Romero, Jones, Herrera, Lingard, Chong, Lukaku, Gomes.
The game at West Ham has to go down as a missed opportunity to improve our points tally by three instead of the single point we gained, though the inspired form of Hammers keeper Adrian had a lot to do with that outcome. It wasn’t exactly riveting stuff for the most part, but the point did at least ensure we will finish the season as Premier League runners-up, albeit far too far behind our city rivals for any satisfaction to be taken from it. Quite honestly, the late “handbags” episode between Paul Pogba and West Ham veteran Mark Noble was about as ‘exciting’ as the game got!
I again expect this final home fixture with Watford to have a very much “end of season” feel about it, with neither side having much of consequence to play for. That said, some of our players are surely walking a tightrope with the manager after failing to ‘fire’ for him on quite a few occasions this season and could therefore do with reminding him (and us) just why they ARE United players right now. I’d certainly take this opportunity to bring a couple of the academy kids onto the bench (and later, onto the pitch!) for the experience, namely Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong.
Watford, with nothing to play for, should be ideal opposition for those wishing to make the most of a last chance to give the manager some ‘food for thought’ ahead of making his team selection for the F.A. Cup Final next week… let’s hope they take it. The fans pay a lot of hard-earned money to come and watch these lads play the game and deserve some effort and excitement for their commitment.