Real Madrid vs. Manchester United sees the Red Devils in pole position to progress from Pool A of the International Champions Cup. If United avoid defeat in normal time, they will find themselves in the final of the competition, taking on the winners of Pool B.
Which is helpful, since avoiding defeat in normal time will be no small feat. Although Real Madrid have not hit their stride in this tournament, losing on penalties to Inter and 1-0 to Roma, their plethora of attacking talent means they are always a threat.
Xabi Alonso has played down the importance of their results so far, saying "It’s about getting fit, having good sessions. We are not really concerned with results," per Skysports.com.
Van Gaal, on the other hand, has relished United's winning performances so far, saying on MUTV, "I’m very pleased, it’s the third match and we make big steps. I’m very pleased. Of course, it gives confidence to the players and that’s the most important thing" (h/t ManUtd.com).
Assuming Van Gaal is keen on seeing United through to the final, it seems reasonable to guess that he will field the strongest side he can. That would not necessarily follow the pattern of the tour so far, though. In the three games played so far, he has made plenty of changes, both before and during matches.
Perhaps he will also be swayed by this game potentially being United's last against European competition until 2015. It would be nice to go out on a high.
With all that in mind, a definitive prediction remains extremely challenging, but here is what seems a reasonable guess.
In goal, Sam Johnstone and Ben Amos were given their chance in goal against AS Roma. In the other two games, Van Gaal has played David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard for 45 minutes each, but mixed it up by playing De Gea in the first half versus LA Galaxy and the second against Inter.
None of the four would be a particularly surprising selection, but my guess is that De Gea will play, possibly even for longer than 45 minutes, because of the quality of the opposition attack.
With that same quality in mind, a back three of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling seems a reasonable guess. However, neither Michael Keane nor Tyler Blackett have let Van Gaal down when called upon, so—as with the goalkeepers—a selection from outside of the first-team squad would not be a shock.
At left wing-back, Van Gaal was full of praise for Luke Shaw following the Inter game, saying, per the Press Association, via Mail Online, "I think he did very good tonight. He's working very hard. He was lucky today because I was going to play our friend Reece James but he was a little bit injured."
Assuming he has recovered from his injury, perhaps "our friend Reece James" will start this game, with Shaw covering second-half duties.
Antonio Valencia will be hoping to nail down the position of right wing-back in the continued absence of Rafael da Silva. Ashley Young is next in line for the role, and may get a second-half run out.
In the centre of midfield, United's most impressive combination so far has been Darren Fletcher and Ander Herrera. Unfortunately, given Fletcher played the full game against Inter, it seems unlikely he will start here. Tom Cleverley seems likely to get the nod, alongside Herrera.
Juan Mata, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney have started every game on the tour and there is every reason to think they will do so again. It would be very pleasing to see a repeat of the superb passing move they managed in the first half against Inter.
My guess at United's starting XI is below. Please feel free to share yours in the comments.