Manchester United’s starting XI for last Sunday’s 1-3 victory over Swansea City raised more than a few eyebrows. It was arguably the slowest front six that the club has selected in recent memory, with Wayne Rooney, Maraoune Fellaini, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic famed for anything but their pace. The defence that Jose Mourinho had selected looked remarkably risky too, with Matteo Darmian, who has been deputising for the injured Antonio Valencia shifted to left back and Ashley Young featuring on the right. The sight of Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones at the heart of United’s back four was particularly alarming to the club’s fans, which is why Swansea’s poor performance was so welcome; the visiting side were rarely put under intense pressure.
Of course, things have gotten little more complicated for Mourinho thanks to Ibrahimovic’s second-half booking, which has ruled the Swede out of United’s next game against Arsenal through suspension. Given the absence of both Valencia and Eric Bailly, this is hardly ideal considering that the Gunners have started this Premier League season in fine form.
How Mourinho attempts to compensate for the absence of all three of these players will be interesting. For sure Mourinho will persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal. However, when it comes to replacing Ibrahimovic, conventional wisdom suggests that Rooney will get the nod up front, giving how hesitant Mourinho has been to utilise Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as strikers. This also gives the former Chelsea boss another chance to test Rooney’s abilities up front, although the way his abilities have diminished over the last few years would suggest that little will be learned.
In defence, Darmian will almost certainly continue to deputise for the Ecuadorian whilst he recovers from injury, but it’s unclear where. Mourinho was particularly unimpressed with Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw for pulling out of United’s matchday squad this weekend, and if he still harbours doubts about their ability to help his side, then he may opt to keep Darmian on the left and Young on the right.
It’s also unclear which centre back partnership Mourinho will choose; Jones and Rojo were both relatively steady on Sunday, but against Arsenal’s attack, the presence of Daley Blind, given his ability to read the game and passing range may be of far greater use to United than the physicality that Jones and Rojo possess. As such, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Dutchman recalled alongside Rojo in the heart of United’s defence, if only to give Mourinho’s back four some balance.