Given his status as a bona fide Manchester United legend, it’s not stretching the truth to suggest that when Gary Neville speaks about his boyhood club, people listen. The former Valencia boss and Sky Sports pundit has earned a reputation for straight-talking when it comes to matters at Old Trafford, and when he was invited to the Oxford Union to speak about the current situation at the club, and the status of England interim coach Gareth Southgate.
He also presented attendees with his preferred starting XI, barring injuries, which we’ve displayed below. As you can see, it raises several eyebrows, not just for a few of the players that he’s picked, but for the ones he’s excluded.
No surprise to see David De Gea in goal; the Spaniard has matured into one of the best shotstoppers on the planet during his time at United, and there are few that can match his abilities between the sticks.
Defence, however, is a little more interesting. It’s no surprise to see Neville pick Eric Bailly as one of two centre backs; the Ivorian has been hugely impressive since signing from Villareal last summer, and United have missed his presence in defence since picking up an injury against Chelsea several weeks ago. Chris Smalling is selected as his partner, which makes sense; the England international is, on his day, the second most capable player at the club in the position.
Antonio Valencia is selected at right back, which is fair given the Ecuadorian has been a mainstay in Jose Mourinho’s plans since he took charge in May. Daley Blind is Neville’s preferred choice at left back, however, which is particularly interesting. Maybe the former England defender just doesn’t rate Luke Shaw at this moment in time.
Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera are obvious choices in midfield, with Neville perhaps unsurprisingly choosing Michael Carrick in a deeper role and allowing the Spaniard and Frenchman to roam further up the pitch.
But there’s no place for either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Wayne Rooney up front, interestingly. Anthony Martial, who has had a stuttering start to his second season at Old Trafford, is selected on the left of attack, with Marcus Rashford the striker. On his right is another man who has struggled to make an impact this season in the shape of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian has been consistently absent from United’s starting XIs this season, so his inclusion in Neville’s XI is interesting, to say the least.