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28/10/2023 17:29

Erik ten Hag might need to drop two in-form Man United players vs Man City

It already feels rather inevitable how the Manchester derby will play out on Sunday afternoon. Man City will dictate possession, looking to probe their opponents, while Manchester United will sit back and do their damage on the break.

The better question is perhaps how long Erik ten Hag’s side will be able to withstand the inevitable onslaught, given that their chances of winning the match will most likely rely on taking what few chances they have.

There only feels like a slim chance of a perfect storm in which United are at their best and City are having an off day, meaning the most sensible strategy would be for United to play to their strengths as a counter-attacking team.

Ten Hag’s long-term vision is for United to be able to match their most fierce rivals and beat them at their own game, but it would be reckless to adopt such an approach this weekend while they remain a work in progress and are playing against such strong opposition.

In order to do so, Ten Hag will need to make a few ruthless calls. Pragmatism should be valued over flair, and it could be a case of playing the percentages with a Solskjaer-esque selection for such a big game.

It is a cliche that form goes out of the window for a match of such magnitude, and it could be that United’s in-form players go out of the team as well.

Such an approach could mean that a couple of in-form players need to be dropped, with fitness levels and pressing stats being more important than creativity and craftsmanship from the start.

Casemiro faces a ‘race against the clock’ to be fit for the match, but he is trusted so highly by his manager that it feels like he will be risked if necessary in the match.

If that is the case, it will be fascinating to see who is partnered alongside him in midfield. Scott McTominay is the in-form utility man, but Ten Hag has already talked up Sofyan Amrabat as a potential partner, and this could be the perfect match for him.

Amrabat has underwhelmed thus far in a United shirt during matches when there has been an onus on his side to attack and break down their opponents, but he could excel in a defensive role when his side have their backs to the wall.

It could also mean that Christian Eriksen drops out of the team despite changing the game so well both against Sheffield United and against Copenhagen in midweek.

The Danish midfielder is the most in-form of any United player right now, but he is another whose skillset is better suited to matches when his side are on top rather than when there is dirty work to be done.

In his place, Bruno Fernandes or Mason Mount could lead the midfield, with the other selected in a makeshift right-wing role with a focus on dropping back to defend and pressing high to harass their opponents.

It would mean that Eriksen can once again be a vital game-changer from the bench at Old Trafford, and if United can keep the game tight beforehand, then he could be a worthy roll of the dice to try and nick all three points.

Eriksen and McTominay are in form, but that doesn’t mean they should be in the team.

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