When Sir Alex Ferguson retired following an unprecedented 20th league title for Manchester United and chose David Moyes as his successor last season, few would have predicted yet another new era at the club would begin a little over 10 months later.
However, after overseeing a disastrous debut campaign, Moyes’ ill-fated reign at the Old Trafford helm is over and veteran midfielder Ryan Giggs has been charged with resurrecting a sense of pride as well as earning a Europa League place with the club’s remaining four Premier League fixtures.
But even a quartet of victories will not be enough to stop the current crop of players from collecting yet another unwanted accolade with the Red Devils set to record their lowest points total in the Premier League era.
Norwich travel to the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday evening desperate for points to beat the drop; while several of the reigning Champions’ squad are well aware they are now playing for their futures.
With all eyes on United’s most decorated player, who will make it into his starting XI after the 40-year-old insisted that he intends to play an exciting brand of football that is in line with the club’s traditional philosophy?
Here are the 11 players likely to get the nod.
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
The Spaniard has performed admirably throughout a difficult campaign behind a less than sturdy or settled back four in front of him and is developing into one of the best goalkeepers in world football. The 23-year-old has kept 11 clean sheets in 33 appearances, which is the same total of shut-outs that he managed last season and will hope to build on that achievement against the Canaries.
Right-Back: Chris Smalling
Smalling remains an accomplished versatile option at the back and will slot onto the right flank due to the continued absence of Brazilian defender Rafael through injury. The England international has won 60 percent of his tackles this season and although he is low on confidence, could yet be buoyed by Giggs’ arrival.
Centre-Back: Phil Jones
Although occasionally clumsy and cumbersome, Jones is expected to keep his place despite a poor performance against Everton last week when his petulant handball gifted the Toffees the chance to take the lead from the spot.
However, he is still seen as the future of the club and needs to forge a partnership with younger members of the squad rather than the departing Nemanja Vidic or ageing Rio Ferdinand.
Centre-Back: Jonny Evans
The Northern Irishman has endured an injury-plagued season and has been restricted to just 17 appearances in the Premier League. However, Evans has managed an impressive tackle success rate of 74 percent and is also a force to be reckoned with in the air due to a 67 percent success rate in aerial duels. Norwich’s attackers are far from prolific and the 26-year-old should have enough to thwart Gary Hooper and Co.
Left-Back: Alex Buttner
The Dutch full-back has been uninspiring this season and was caught in limbo once Ferguson retired. Moyes made it clear that he was reluctant to use the 25-year-old and Giggs will only do so because first choice Patrice Evra remains sidelined.
The former Vitesse defender is likely to leave in the summer and he could struggle to contain the trickery and pace of Nathan Redmond.
Defensive-Midfielder: Michael Carrick
Solid and assured in possession as ever, with a passing accuracy of 88 percent, Carrick is a reliable member of United’s midfield.
The 32-year-old will never provide the driving force that has been lacking in the Red Devils’ midfield ranks this season and desperately needs a creative spark to work alongside.
Central-Midfielder: Darren Fletcher
The Scottish international has come back into the fold with the team in disarray after recovering from a bowel condition and is likely to be handed only his eighth start of the season to spare Marouane Fellaini’s blushes further.
The Belgian appears to be way out of his depth, while Giggs will be wary of pulling too many surprises and will demand a solid defensive display that Fletcher can provide.
Right-Midfielder: Adnan Januzaj
Arguably the success story of United’s lacklustre season comes in the form of Januzaj. The 19-year-old recently pledged his international future to Belgium and is precisely the type of player Giggs will be keen to get involved more often.
The youngster attacks his opposite man with pace, gets the crowd up on their feet and can help restore a feel good atmosphere to the stands.
Left-Midfielder: Danny Welbeck
Welbeck may well have grown frustrated at being used on wing, but his defensive contribution is needed, particularly when in front of the inexperienced Buttner.
The England forward has a respectable goal tally of nine for the season but it is difficult to justify playing him up front with two outstanding players ahead of him in the pecking order.
Attacking-Midfielder: Juan Mata
The mercurial midfielder has flourished in his preferred No. 10 role since Robin van Persie’s injury and he simply has to start against Norwich in the same position. The Spaniard is the side’s most creative force having made 28 chances in 12 appearances following his move from Chelsea, double the amount of any United player in the same time period.
Mata makes the team tick with his crisp, incisive passing and should not be forced into a wide role.
Centre-Forward: Wayne Rooney
United’s talisman was an anonymous figure against his former club at Goodison Park last weekend and he needs to return to form. The striker has committed his long-term future to the club courtesy of a lucrative contract and needs to step up to provide some leadership for Giggs on the pitch as he is now one of the most senior players in the side.
In a new era for the club, the team should be built to his strengths and his 16th goal of the season would be a fitting way to start as he means to go on.
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