As Manchester United head to the Stadium of Light for Saturday’s lunch-time kick-off, Louis van Gaal has seemingly stumbled across his best starting line-up so far this season.
Since the win in the FA Cup over Derby, Van Gaal’s side have begun turning in entertaining performances. The fast paced football, organised defending and direct running of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard have allowed Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney to come into form since the turn of the year while the Reds pick up much needed points.
With more injuries added to the squad since the 1-1 draw against Chelsea last weekend, Van Gaal must make a decision on a few positions for his side as Manchester United hope to get 3 points against Sunderland.
In goal, David De Gea is a shoe-in for as long as he is at the club. The Spaniard is highly regarded as one of the top two goalkeepers in world football right now and has been in spectacular form recently. It was he who helped Manchester United leave Stamford Bridge with a point last weekend, with a string of top saves cruelly ignored as Diego Costa tapped into an empty net in injury time.
In defence, Manchester United seem to have found a balance finally. With Chris Smalling having his best season in a Red shirt to date and Daley Blind proving he is equally adept in defence as in midfield, the Dutch manager has found his best partnership. Phil Jones injured himself once again in the Under 21’s game on Monday night, a tie he was making his return in, and will miss the game while Marcos Rojo is nearing fitness again but is still not ready.
At full-back, Guillermo Varela made a strong impression during his brief run in the side over the Christmas period. He won’t get another shot this weekend though as a knee injury picked up in the Under 21’s 7-0 win over Norwich has ruled him out of the game. That means Matteo Darmian will have the chance to continue his own good form in his preferred right-back position.
The Italian has rediscovered his early season form in recent weeks and Louis van Gaal will be hopeful that he can maintain that as United go on the hunt for a winning streak to claim a place in next season’s Champions League.
At left-back, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has put himself on the map. The 18 year old broke into the side after Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian all got injured and he’s taken his chance with both hands. The youngster has shown his defensive ability and a willingness to get forward and put in dangerous crosses, cementing himself as a fan favourite along the way.
In midfield, whether fans want to admit it or not, Marouane Fellaini has impressed in recent weeks. He’s used the ball well, showed strength and the stamina that he was known for at Everton hasn’t gone away. Alongside Michael Carrick, Manchester United would have a strong balance of strength, power and passing from deep in midfield with Sunderland likely to defend for their lives and try to counter attack.
In attack, the front four currently picks itself. Jesse Lingard is in a fantastic run of form at the moment with three goals from his last four shots on target from the right wing. The England youth international broke into the team and his direct running and willingness to work for the team have seen him keep his place in the team ahead of Ander Herrera, Andreas Pereira and Memphis.
Despite his quite obvious lack of world class quality in the final third, he always gives 100% to the cause and will always find himself either creating or on the end of a chance or two throughout the 90 minutes. He’s found a connection with Juan Mata recently too, with the Spaniard finding some form in his preferred No.10 role behind Wayne Rooney up front.
The United and England captain has scored 7 goals in 2016 and earlier this season ended an 11-game goal drought with the second goal in the 3-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford. Now, with Anthony Martial out on the left tearing through defenders all over the shop, Rooney is likely to continue his good run of form against a side he has a good record against.
Memphis and Herrera are also in with a shout of a potential start in this game, with the possibility that Louis van Gaal may look to rotate the team ahead of the midweek Europa League tie. Adnan Januzaj however will not feature with another injury ruling him out of the first-team picture.