The Starting XI Debate- Europa League Final

Manchester United are the biggest club in the world and therefore should have quality in every position as well as a strong crop of squad players who can come into the team at any given time.

However, despite the large squad number, how many players are actually good enough to play for the club? United fans have been quick to point this out especially when it comes to players such as Jesse Lingard, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones. And probably rightly so.

This links into the debate of who should start in United’s first European cup final since 2011 as some of these players are in line to start for Manchester United in their most important game in recent years.



Firstly, there is the stigma around who will start between the sticks. This argument is surely only occurring due to the fact Romero has been United’s ‘Europa League goalkeeper’. This has caused many Reds all over Twitter to question the sanity of Jose Mourinho.

Although, despite thinking Mourinho has lost the plot surely there’s method to the Portuguese tactician’s madness. Sergio Romero has played 17 games this season, keeping 11 clean sheets. United have won 13 and drew 4 of these games, meaning we haven’t lost a game this season with the Argentine stopper in goals.

On the other hand, there’s David De Gea who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world along with Manuel Neuer. This makes it even more ridiculous that he may not start in United’s biggest game of the season. The Spaniard has all the hallmarks to become one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time making Jose’s decision to play Romero even more questionable.

In my opinion, David De Gea has to start. There is no room for sentimentality in football especially in ruthless European competitions. But I understand if Mourinho was to opt for Romero despite my personal opinion, I would hold no grudge as when he’s played, he has been exceptional.

The Centre Back Partnership

This is one of the biggest decisions Jose Mourinho has to make regarding his starting team in Stockholm. I’ll discuss three potential partnerships that we may see: the first being the most realistic, the second being the worst possible and the third being my personal preference.

First is the most realistic one in my opinion, Daley Blind and Phil Jones. This to many fans in any other game would probably be acceptable but in the Europa League final, this would not be particularly ideal. However, looking at the circumstances it may be one of the best possible pairings.

Daley Blind offers composure and tactical awareness from centre back and can play the ball out from the back comfortably which will benefit United when Ajax press. Phil Jones is the type of player who will throw himself in front of the ball and do whatever he can to prevent the opposition is scoring despite not having great technical ability.

The second centre back partnership and probably the worst possible is Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, otherwise known as the Chuckle Brothers. Smalling whenever he plays spreads panic across the back four and has no composure whatsoever when in possession of the ball. But alongside Jones against an Ajax side that throw men forward and press defenders is a recipe for disaster.

The centre back pairing I would most like to see (albeit risky and probably the most unlikely) is Axel Tuanzebe and Daley Blind. I would start Tuanzebe over the Chuckle Brothers because despite his age, he is already far superior to either of them technically and shows composure at the highest level as well as oozing quality in possession. Alongside Daley Blind, the pairing would offer a combination of strength, intelligence and composure.

The Full Backs

To most Manchester United fans the full backs pick themselves. The right back undoubtedly has to be Players’ Player of the Year, Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian has been consistently brilliant for Mourinho this season offering a superb attacking outlet, in addition to being a rock at the back, stopping any opposition threats down his side.

And then at left back, personally I think Matteo Darmian would be a great selection from Jose. The Italian has looked defensively solid and despite the fact he gets a nosebleed every time he crosses the halfway line, he is capable of stopping the best wingers in the Premier League, never mind the inexperienced youth of Ajax.

The Midfield Three

This is based on the assumption the boss opts for a 4-3-3 formation. I think two of the three is more or less confirmed, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba. These two have been superb for United this season and have been two of Mourinho’s most trusted players in the squad.

Herrera, winner of Fans Player of the Year, will be vital in this game (as will Pogba of course) as he is Manchester United’s engine in the midfield and we will no doubt be heavily relying on him to press the opposition midfield. The Basque footballer is adored by United fans and if he is to become our next captain, helping United to our first ever Europa League trophy will do his chances no harm.

Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive football as you will no doubt have heard numerous times this season MUST start for the Reds in Stockholm. He is crucial to United’s attacking threat and his passing range is needed to unlock a young Ajax defence as well as pick out willing runners in behind such as Rashford and Lingard.

The final position in that midfield three is probably a straight battle between Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick. Many football fans, not just United followers would snigger at just the thought of this question because Fellaini is perceived to be useless and clumsy.

However, this season I believe he has proven this attitude to be wrong. Although he might not be Man United quality, he has proven to be useful and it is clear Mourinho trusts the man. He scored the goal that sent us to Stockholm in the first place as well as several other important goals for us. The Belgian may not be the greatest technically but he could come in useful considering Ajax’s normal starting XI includes only two players over six foot.

Michael Carrick nonetheless offers a wealth of experience, an impressive passing range and a unique ability to read the game that few other players in the squad possess. His experience against an unseasoned  Ajax side could be pivotal as he offers a calm and collected head in a midfield that otherwise could be described as very full on.

The Forward Three

There is one nailed on starter for the final in the front three and that is Marcus Rashford. The youngsters blistering pace will be a major threat to Ajax on the counter. The way their centre backs rush out to help press will leave plenty of space in behind them, one ball over the top from Pogba or Carrick and they’re exposed.

The other two places in the attacking trio will be a battle between the likes of Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial and even Rooney possibly.

Jesse Lingard offers pace, passion and amazing movement which will allow United to find space in behind an enthusiastic Ajax backline. Personally, I think he would be an ideal choice for a game like this and could be a real threat to an Ajax team with a lack of experience. Jesse also contributes in big games with important goals. Just like Fellaini he may not be the best but he has big goals in him reserved for the big occasion.

Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have a very similar skill set, both capable of playing a defence splitting pass and are both brilliantly composed in possession and in front of goal in most cases. However, despite Mkhitaryan’s sensational form in the Europa League, he has been poor recently and I don’t think he warrants a start.

Mata is another I believe it would be a risk to start as he has only recently came back from injury and lacks match rhythm. To be honest, the final reason I believe neither should start is Anthony Martial.

Martial has ridiculous pace and quality on the ball, the way he dribbles and weaves his way in and out defenders will be important when facing the Dutch side. One thing the Frenchman can do that will inevitably damage any backline is his runs to the byline and his ability to find someone in the box and if this does not work, he finds a way to cut inside and make room for a shot.

Finally, there’s Wayne Rooney, the previously great striker on the decline. The dying embers of the once world class Rooney is there for all to see. He’s lost his pace, tenacity and his ruthlessness. This leaves little for him to start in United’s eleven on Wednesday. The only reason for the veteran to start would be his experience and undying will to win. He may have lost his quality but he still shows he wants which more than can be said for a few members of the squad. For me, I do not think this is enough of a reason for him to start.

In this United need pace to get at this Ajax team and break quickly, the creativity will be provided by the likes of Pogba and the goal threat will come from the likes of Rashford and Martial. I want our best players on the pitch to play this particular side. This is why I chose the following team:

GK: David De Gea (as unlikely as this may be)
RB: Antonio Valencia
CB: Daley Blind
CB: Axel Tuanzebe (again, highly unlikely)
LB: Matteo Darmian

CM: Ander Herrera
CM: Paul Pogba
CM: Marouane Fellaini

RW: Jesse Lingard
ST: Marcus Rashford
LW: Anthony Martial

Follow @UnitedScotsman on Twitter for more news, views and opinions on everything United related.


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