It’s a new week at Manchester United, but not necessarily one that brings any optimism along with it.
After a wasteful weekend draw with Watford, questions have once again been asked about United’s credentials as potential top-four finishers, and, as with any dropped points, a mini-crisis has ensued.
Any renewed optimism after last week’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid has now been replaced by dread as Ralf Rangnick’s side prepare for an unenviable trip to face Man City this weekend, in what will be by far the toughest test of the interim manager’s reign to date.
With no midweek match to disrupt plans, Rangnick will at least benefit from a full week of training and plenty of time for him to plot an unlikely victory against the side that sit so confidently atop the Premier League table.
The interim manager might point towards the goalless draw with Watford as evidence that his side are looking strong at the back and creating plenty of chances, though many would label it ‘clutching at straws’ given it was yet another match in which United failed to capitalize on their dominance.
To give his side the best chance of getting a result this weekend, Rangnick could well look to spring a tactical surprise, though a win of any nature will be excused on derby day, even if it is a very tough one to watch.
With so many wasted chances last time out, it is clear United can’t afford a repeat this weekend, which could convince the interim manager to drop the out-of-form Cristiano Ronaldo, despite his craving for big game moments.
Instead, there needs to be a focus on team cohesion and work rate. It could lead United to a wildcard strikerless system utilizing a false nine instead.
With no in-form striker, there is an argument to suggest United should instead favor a fluid attacking formation with no fixed focal point, allowing Bruno Fernandes to instead operate in the deeper central role, dropping back to receive the ball.
It could prove to be a masterstroke in unlocking a stubborn Man City defense and is a system and would also suit Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga in the wider roles, while also being a system which would appear to suit Marcus Rashford as well.
On current form, both Sancho and Elanga remain undroppable and are deserving of a start. This formation would allow that. It would also cater for Paul Pogba in a central midfield role, with three dedicated midfielders meaning both Fred and Scott McTominay could start as well, or Nemanja Matic if the Scotland international has still not returned to fitness.
It might seem ludicrous to drop Ronaldo for such a big match, but given his poor level of performance for the majority of this season, it is a risk that certainly needs to be weighed up.
Just as the draw away at Chelsea back in November was achieved without Ronaldo on the pitch, United’s best hopes for a positive result against City might also be without their most famous player.
A false nine might not be such a bad idea when the alternative is their current No.7.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.