Manchester United return to Premier League action today, as they welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford knowing how big a win could prove to be.
Having recently relinquished a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur, Erik ten Hag will be desperate to claim a victory today that would tighten their grip on a top-four finish.
However, standing in their way is the most in-form team in the division, having picked up 13 points from a possible 15 in their last five. Unai Emery has masterminded a late European push for the Villans, and winning here today would bring them to within just three points of the Red Devils, although having played two extra games.
It would make for a nervy end to the season, which the Dutchman will seek to avoid.
Having showcased their fragility in the second half against the Lilywhites, whilst also having to navigate their busy fixture list, there is expected to be a few alterations from that side that collapsed in north London.
Ten Hag even came out following that result to claim: “We have the worst schedule also in the Premier League, that will not change.”
With that mindset, rotation is almost a prerequisite to avoid looking foolish should he continue to play the same players.
How will Manchester United line up against Aston Villa?
With that in mind, the former Ajax boss could make three changes from their disappointing result last time out, adding some much-needed energy whilst resting key players.
David De Gea, who has featured in every league game thus far despite his tumultuous form at times, will likely remain in between the sticks.
He will be guarded by a back four that welcomes the return of Tyrell Malacia, as the 23-year-old enjoyed a short substitute appearance last time out after failing to make the squad for their win over Nottingham Forest.
This will allow Luke Shaw to continue shining at centre-back beside Victor Lindelof, and for Diogo Dalot to also return to his natural right-back role. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will drop out.
In midfield, Christian Eriksen has been instantly thrown back into almost every starting lineup since his return from a lengthy layoff, so perhaps Ten Hag could afford him some rest by partnering Fred with his compatriot Casemiro.
Although the former has been branded a “headless chicken” in the past by journalist John Deehan, this could actually be seen as necessary to disrupt Villa’s workmanlike engine room.
The former Real Madrid star and his £120k-per-week teammate will sit just behind Bruno Fernandes, who starred against Spurs.
Despite scoring, Jadon Sancho could drop out to afford Wout Weghorst a start. The physical presence he offers would allow the likes of Antony and Marcus Rashford, who would in turn occupy the wide roles, far more space to thrive.
Predicted Manchester United XI (4-3-3): De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Shaw, Malacia; Casemiro, Fred, Fernandes; Antony, Rashford, Weghorst