Manchester United will start their pre-season tour against Club América before the International Champions Cup kicks off. However, with many United stars playing in the World Cup, changes will to the side will be sorely needed, and José Mourinho will take the process seriously as he has given most of the first team an extended holiday that should keep them out of the beginning of the Premier League.
Here is how United should line up against the Mexican giants to contest their low-profile opening match in Phoenix.
David de Gea started for Spain at the World Cup and is unavailable, leaving Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira, and new signing Lee Grant eligible for the Red Devils. Romero, whose 2017/18 campaign and World Cup aspirations were ended by an injury, should start to gain match fitness as he may be needed for United’s opener.
Behind him, Grant’s signing should allow Pereira to go on loan, but in the opening match, it is more likely that the latter will start. The Portuguese youngster is a very impressive goalkeeper and while he likely does not have a lengthy career ahead of him in Manchester due to de Gea’s consistent excellence, he will be eager to prove his credentials to compatriot Mourinho.
Antonio Valencia is United’s captain and his woes of last season were exaggerated by many; he remains a solid defensive fullback and this should be his final campaign starting at the back. Ashley Young, likely Mourinho’s preferred left-back, reached the semi-final of the World Cup with Gareth Southgate’s England, paving the way for Luke Shaw to start the season as United’s left-back.
Shaw will need to impress, but Young’s exclusion gives him a great chance. There are (somewhat unreliable) reports that his fitness has impressed the Carrington coaching staff. If he is able to show attacking and defensive capabilities akin to the form he showed before his double leg break, he will do the Red Devils a world of good and bring out the best of Valencia again.
New signing Diogo Dalot’s potential seems sky-high, and he could play either right-back or left-back; the former is his preferred position but Mourinho is more likely to trust Valencia at the start of the season than Shaw. Regardless of which he plays, Matteo Darmian is likely to play on the other side as he negotiates a very likely move away from Old Trafford- the Italian is a good defender but a tactical misfit in Mourinho’s side.
Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly missed out on the World Cup for differing reasons; Smalling was not selected for England and Bailly’s Ivory Coast did not qualify. Both should therefore be included in this match, despite Smalling’s various horror-showings over the past two seasons.
Axel Tuanzebe played right-back and defensive midfield for United’s senior side in Mourinho’s first season, but given that Timothy Fosu-Mensah is not a centre-back by trade and RoShaun Williams is the only other defender in the squad, Tuanzebe will finally play the position which has seen him earn plaudits at youth level.
United’s midfield selection has been decimated by the World Cup, with Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matić and new signing Fred all representing their countries in Russia this summer. This leaves only Ander Herrera and the recently-promoted Scott McTominay available from the senior midfielders in the squad.
It seems more likely that Fosu-Mensah could be included at right-back given that he played there all season for Crystal Palace, but there are no natural defensive midfielders in Manchester United’s senior squad beyond Matic. As such, he should be included in defensive midfield, and given United’s current options, James Garner could be given a chance in midfield
This leaves the advanced midfield spots. It would be great to see Juan Mata in this role but given that he and Anthony Martial are the only senior players in the front three, it is very unlikely. If Mourinho implied anything during pre-season in his first two years at Old Trafford, it was that he sees Andreas Pereira as a central player.
Pereira should not have gone on loan this season, but he seemed to have requested it because he wanted to guarantee playing time. This likely did not sit well with Mourinho and means that this summer could be make or break for the Brazilian playmaker at United. It would be no surprise to see youngster Ethan Hamilton replace him in the second half given United’s poor midfield numbers.
Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are all unavailable due to World Cup commitments, and Alexis Sánchez was not allowed into the US for the tour yet due to a VISA-related issue. This should pave the way for Anthony Martial to start, and Juan Mata to join him on the opposite wing. Martial could start up top, but the inclusion of two particular youngsters in the tour squad suggests otherwise.
Joshua Bohui and Mason Greenwood have both played up front of late in the youth squad. The latter is just sixteen years old and has a lot of hype behind him, and could play the first half with Mata and Martial. Bohui would then play the second half with Angel Gomes, who normally plies his trade in the centre of the pitch but will play on the left due to Sánchez’s absence.
Finally, Tahith Chong should play in his preferred position on the right, where the flying winger has recovered spectacularly from an ACL injury to become a hot prospect at United. Given the lack of natural players in this position in United’s senior squad, Chong will be hoping he can force his way into a couple of starts for the Red Devils this season.
Considering that Mourinho will want to combine the youth players with experience, expect to see something along the lines of the side below.