Manchester United play West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, a lunchtime fixture that has additional importance given it is United’s first run out since the tepid, demoralising defeat to Olympiakos last week.
David Moyes desperately needs his side to find a performance that eases the pressure on him. His disastrous first season in charge still has room to get worse. Given upcoming fixtures against Manchester City and Liverpool, and the second leg against Olympiakos, pressure on Moyes could grow quickly.
One of the areas United got badly wrong against Olympiakos was with the tactics. Playing a fairly rigid 4-4-1-1 formation, with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at centre-half, United’s midfield were drawn too deep into their own half to offer meaningful support to the forward players.
Given the fallout from that defeat, it will be interesting to see if Moyes changes things.
Injury problems are easing in defense, and a back five of David De Gea, Rafael, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra seems likely.
Vidic may be chosen ahead of Evans or Smalling, and Smalling may be favoured at right-back. Much will depend on fitness, and what the powers that be at United made of Vidic's very public signing for Inter Milan this week.
In the heart of midfield, it seems unlikely that Tom Cleverley will see action given his performance against Olympiakos. Michael Carrick may well be partnered by Marouane Fellaini, who performed reasonably well in United’s previous game against Crystal Palace.
Moyes’ key selection and tactical dilemmas are, as ever, in advanced positions.
Robin van Persie played 90 minutes for the Netherlands on Wednesday evening, in spite of having been too ill to train the day before (per the Mirror).
All eyes will be on the Hawthorns to see whether van Persie is selected following the fallout from the Olympiakos game, and following suggestions of a rift in the relationship between Moyes and the Dutchman, per Jeremy Cross of The Daily Star.
If he is selected, it is possible that the "Fab Four" will be reunited, and van Persie will play ahead of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj. With Mata and Januzaj not having been involved with either their national teams or with United’s dismal Champions League outing, they seem very likely to be included.
Of the other forward players, Javier Hernandez has picked up an injury playing for Mexico. Shinji Kagawa and Antonio Valencia both travelled long distances with their countries. Danny Welbeck looked lively in his cameo for England against Denmark and may lead the line should van Persie not be selected.
Ashley Young was certainly not United’s worst performer against Olympiakos, and there is a chance his endeavour will be preferred to Januzaj’s end product, but Moyes must surely be looking to pull out all the stops and finally enable his team to pull off a performance worthy of Manchester United.
It has been deeply frustrating to see United’s creative players hamstrung, or left out of the side altogether.
The decision to not even include Januzaj on the bench against Olympiakos seemed bizarre. Given Albion are a side with many difficulties of their own, there is no reason for Moyes to revert to—cautious—type.
My predicted line-up is below—please feel free to share yours in the comments!