In his early stint as the manager of Manchester United, David Moyes has chopped and changed with his starting XI.
This begs the question, what is Man United’s best starting lineup?
To break it down, we’ll run through the defence, midfield and attack separately before concluding with a complete starting XI. It goes without saying that David De Gea is a shoo-in for the goalkeeper spot.
First, though, we must nail down the formation. Given the way United have played in recent seasons, we will opt for a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 hybrid.
To see who fills those positions, you’ll have to read on…
Man United’s Best Defence
When all the club’s defenders are fully fit, Moyes has a great variety of players to choose from here.
He has enough depth to rest players, enough young talent to experiment, and enough experience to see games out.
For the moment, Patrice Evra is the best option at left-back, and Rafael fully deserves his spot at right-back. Evra has linked well with Shinji Kagawa when the two have started this season, and Rafael’s understanding with Antonio Valencia has been a mainstay on United’s right flank.
Should Moyes swoop for a left-back, namely Leighton Baines, then expect Evra to fall out of favour.
What is Man United's best defensive pairing?
Evra has enjoyed his greater sense of freedom under Moyes and is seeing a lot more of the ball in the opponents’ half. Just don’t be surprised if Moyes looks for someone else to fulfil that role.
It’s in the heart of the defence that we reach our first stumbling block.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have been colossal for United over the years, but their bodies won’t allow them to play a full season of football anymore. It is therefore comforting that in Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, United have three ready-made replacements who are more than capable.
Who should start out of those five?
Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans.
Vidic is still the best defender and as the club captain, is the most natural leader too. Evans, meanwhile, has shown great maturity and has developed magnificently from the nervy youngster we saw a few seasons ago.
Man United’s Best Midfield
Man United’s problem area won’t be easy to solve.
Given that he has carried the midfield over the past two seasons or so, Michael Carrick must start in the middle. And, following some excellent performances in the early stages of the season, Phil Jones is best equipped to sit alongside him. Jones’ tenacity and drive complimented Carrick’s passing style excellently against Arsenal.
However, news of Carrick’s niggling Achilles injury, per Sky Sports, means that he will be absent for the next month or so.
Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley will have to serve as understudies for Carrick’s central midfield spot. Cleverley must improve dramatically in order to start and is at his best when in a midfield three.
Fellaini, though, lacks the ability to control the game in the same way that Carrick can and must settle quickly.
Who should take Carrick's place while he is injured?
Should Moyes sign a much-needed central midfielder soon, then he would fit in alongside Carrick in the long term, thus allowing Jones to drop back to defence.
On the right-hand side of midfield, Antonio Valencia must start. Some may call for Nani, but Valencia is the more consistent of the two and holds his width much better. The Ecuadorian has only really shown glimpses of what he can do this season, but he’s still the right choice.
The left-hand side is a little trickier to solve.
The emergence of Adnan Januzaj has pushed his name right into contention. He is, however, extremely young and must therefore be eased in.
He and Danny Welbeck should serve as back-ups to Shinji Kagawa.
Yes, the Japanese is better through the middle, but in this team he has to make do with a role on the left. The overlapping Evra allows him to tuck in, and the pair have shown some great link-up play in the last few games.
Man United’s Best Attack
This is where things get a little easier…
Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are the first two names on the team sheet. Even when they’re not scoring goals or providing assists, the mere presence of the two strikers bolsters United’s attack.
They have seven and five goals respectively in the Premier League this season from 11 games. That’s not too bad at all for a team not yet firing on all cylinders.
Moyes certainly thinks the pair are hitting their best form now following the game against Arsenal, with the quotes provided by David McDonnell of the Mirror:
Great players score great goals in big games and Robin is a great player. I have to say his sidekick, Wayne, played great as well. The two of them were fantastic. Wayne made it, Robin scored it. I said to Wayne afterwards that his energy and the way he worked was magnificent.
In this proposed lineup, Rooney will naturally drop deeper and can form a five-man midfield when necessary. If it came to a straight shootout between Rooney and Kagawa, Rooney would win every time. In this set-up, the two can play together.
Of course, the only conundrum in attack is the role of Javier Hernandez. There may not be a more natural goalscorer in the Premier League right now but, unfortunately, Chicharito is limited elsewhere on the pitch.
He won’t be happy coming on as a substitute, but it’s where he is most effective.
Man United’s Best Starting Lineup
In the above lineup, United’s attacking triumvirate of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa are all accommodated, with Michael Carrick and Phil Jones patrolling the middle of the pitch. Antonio Valencia provides width on the right.
There’s obviously room to manuever here.
Januzaj can replace Kagawa, Kagawa can replace Rooney and Hernandez can replace van Persie. There’s enough cover in most positions for Moyes to be confident that his side can challenge for silverware this season, especially if he brings in another central midfielder.
Do you disagree with any of my choices? Leave a comment or chat to me on Twitter.