How will Mourinho’s United line up for season opener?

Community Shield celebrations (Photo credit GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Community Shield celebrations (Photo credit GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images) /

The Premier League is back! Sure, the opening weekend’s fixture list may look a little dull, but on the bright side, it should allow all the league’s newbies to get a good game in, let teams work on their chemistry, and hopefully we’ll get some goals.

Manchester United’s first game of the season is away at Bournemouth. The Cherries started their Premier League campaign strongly last year after winning promotion, and will no doubt be out to try and draw some blood early again in this extremely competitive season.

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Bournemouth lost a key player in Matt Ritchie after he transferred to Newcastle this summer, but the addition of pacey Liverpool pair Jordan Ibe and Brad Smith, along with budding USA starlet Emerson Hyndman from Fulham should provide enough support to striker Callum Wilson to keep this team dangerous.

United have looked sluggish at times in several of their preseason games, including last weekend’s Community Shield victory, but Mourinho will have been working hard to make sure the squad is ready for the opening day of his comeback campaign.

Key Battles

Jose Mourinho vs Eddie Howe
There is an unprecedented level of managerial talent in the Premier League this year, and Mourinho’s first test will be against one of the most promising young managers in England (who’s been linked to the Arsenal job). In a season where tactics and strategy will be more evident than ever, Mourinho will have to make sure he does not underestimate the plucky Bournemouth side’s ability to do damage with their attacking possession play.

Jose Mourinho watches on during the Community Shield match at Wembley (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho watches on during the Community Shield match at Wembley (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images) /

Eric Bailly vs Callum Wilson
The opening sophomore season match for The Cherries’ hot striker will collide with United new boy Bailly’s first game in the Prem. Bailly has been one of the highlights of United’s preseason, proving himself to be just as exciting an addition as Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan. He’s been a calm, composed presence on the ball, and a reliable defender when out of possession. He’ll have his hands full with both the pressure of his first English League game and handling a striker who – when fit – put up five goals in seven appearances, including a hat trick against West Ham.

Luke Shaw vs Jordan Ibe
Another English star who spent most of last season injured after a blistering start, Luke Shaw will have his work cut out to reassert himself as the most promising left back in the League. His initial test will be containing the rapid Jordan Ibe, who will be eager to prove himself in the opposing first team after signing from Liverpool. Shaw is no slouch himself, but his fitness levels may not be at quite the level required to keep pace with Ibe. It will be interesting to see if Shaw’s defensive abilities can compensate if his pace is slightly diminished.

Who will start?
Smalling would seem the smarter choice of partner for Bailly as the Englishman pulled one of the better defensive shifts in the Prem last season, but he’s yet to feature in a preseason game. Mourinho started Blind ahead of him for the Community Shield match against Leicester. Could we see another year of the Blind experiment continue? Or will Smalling reclaim his role in the side and serve United with a solid defence in front of De Gea?

Could we see another year of the Blind experiment continue?

I did have a whole paragraph explaining how Pogba – the most expensive player in the world – would be starting, but he’s not. Thanks, Italy.

The bigger question is who would’ve started next to Pogba. Presumably Mourinho will want a more defensively minded midfielder to allow Pogba to roam, which will likely see either Carrick or Schneiderlin on the team sheet after Fellaini’s woeful backpass last week. We could likely see both of them start in the opener given Pogba’s ineligibility.

Ultimately, Schneiderlin seems the best fit to guard the hole in front of the defence, and Carrick the most tactically sound, but Blind could also be an unexpected, smart play. With two years defending experience under his belt, he’d be able to slot into the back line to provide more solidity when United are out of possession and with Smalling and Bailly beside him, not be a liability. His ball-playing skills are still substantial, and would provide a nice, calm counterbalance to Pogba’s exciting movement.

Lingard and Rashford have both continued to look strong in preseason, and could prove immensely useful assets off the bench to shake games up late on. Timothy Fosu-Mensah adds another home grown player to United’s list of cultivated young talent providing competition for first team spots.

Predicted Starting XI

De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mkhikitaryan, Martial; Rooney, Ibrahimovic.

What do you think? Tell us if we’re right or wrong in the comments!