Two Suggested Manchester United Starting XI's & Approaches Versus Wigan Athletic

One legend out, one legend in.

Once again, these suggested Manchester United starting XI's and approaches aren't ones that I anticipate being used (*). Instead, they're ones that make sense to this humble writer (**) when considering form, fitness, and squad rotation. Trying to guess Sir Alex Ferguson's selections and approach is typically a futile exercise and that is certainly so with this Wigan Athletic tie being the second of three over an eight day period. I obviously don't have the detailed fitness information that likely will factor into some selections. For example, is Nani fit enough to start a match or can he only go for a brief 20-30 minute spell? Is fatigue a factor for the likes of Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, and Wayne Rooney? If so, which players desperately need a rest and which players can be gambled to be rested when our eight point lead over Manchester City is considered? In addition, I have no idea what kind of form the likes of Park Ji-sung, Tom Cleverley, Fabio, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and others have shown in training. I'll work on the assumption that some squad rotation is necessary and perhaps a few more players can be rested when one considers the comfortable lead in the title race. However, three points is the absolute priority so all of these factors will attempted to be optimally balanced.

(*) By the way, yes -- the plurality of the opening sentence is stating that I have two suggested lineups

(**) Okay, maybe not humble, but certainly handsome.

** Match Preview: Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester United **

Here is my 1st suggested MUFC starting XI and approach

* The solid arrowed lines indicate general movements when United are in possession while the dotted arrowed lines indicate the pressing movement of the front four.

As I mentioned, I have no clue what starting XI Fergie will use nor what his specific tactics will be for the day. However, I'm fairly certain this will not be it. This is the more radical approach but the basic idea is to use fresh and energetic players in the early-going by pressing high up the pitch. Wigan use a back three system and I'd instruct Park, Cleverley, and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) to intensely press those defenders. This sort of pressing must be done in unison so this would require the energetic Jones and Fabio to push high up in support and pin back the Wigan wing-backs. Rooney and Giggs would cut out passing lanes to the home side's central-midfielders and Carrick would sweep in behind them. The ability of Evans and Smalling to defend on the turn would make them both optimal choices to play with a high-line in the back. David de Gea would have to be alert in the back as well and be prepared to be a 'sweeper-keeper'.

Now, full-out pressing isn't sustainable for a full 90 minutes and the match fitness of Park, Cleverley, Fabio, and Jones could be a concern. However, I'd implement this strategy for about the first 15-25 minutes of this match and I'd strongly desire an early goal for all of this effort. From here, I'd hope that my side would have Wigan a bit unsettled in the back and then the away side would still be wary, or perhaps very uncomfortable, when I decided to 'false press' (***) for the remainder of the half. This lineup would even allow me to switch Cleverley back into central-midfield and move Giggs out to the left-wing when my side pulls back a bit. Getting an early goal against Wigan could be crucial because they are a side that tries to keep the ball. If they were to go ahead early, they'd simply attempt to calmly ping the ball around while always keeping structure in the back. Thus, it'd make it difficult for United to break them down. However, their metronomic ways wouldn't be as calm if they were to go down early as they'd be forced to come out in an attempt to be more incisive. In turn, they'd be more vulnerable in the back and the foundation could be set up for a United rout.

(***) Close down still on Wigan's midfielders but I'd only have the front four press when Wigan were in situations where they they were obviously vulnerable to a turnover in the back.

A second suggested starting XI and approach

I've actually chosen the same players as approach #1, with the exception of Evra for Fabio. After the 2nd leg in the Europa League tie versus Ajax, Fergie indicated that his defense was too inexperienced that day. The selection choices were understandable at the time because he was trying to both give a game to a number of defenders that hadn't featured recently -- due to either being second-choice or because of injury -- and he was also rotating his squad at a time when United were in a much more vulnerable situation in regards to the league title race. I'll concede this experience concern to the great manager and I'll bring on Evra for a bit more of it next to youngsters Smalling and Jones.

This approach isn't much different to what United typically do. I'd deploy Park on the right, and rest Valencia, so that the combative Korean can track the dangerous left-wing-back Jean Beausejour. The Chilean attempts an impressive 10.1 crosses per match at a 28.7% success rate (25% is considered good). Park's movement is good as well and he'd wander inside between the lines. Jones' fresh legs, I'm assuming, would allow him to motor up the right touchline and provide support in attack. If the movement is good up front, Wigan's back three may get stretched at times and space may be available for United full-backs to surge forward into. Cleverley and Giggs would allow for Scholes and Young to get a rest and the former two could interchange and provide variety in attack. Rooney would be the auxiliary midfielder that he typically is when partnered with Chicharito. Hopefully the Mexican striker could bag a goal or two and show that he's in goalscoring form for the run-in. Carrick would be much more conservative, as opposed to when he interchanges with Scholes when the two are midfield partners, as he'd basically sit in front of the back four. When Evans and Smalling have been paired to together, they've dealt well with attackers who are tricky and whose movement is good.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, the obvious priority is to earn all three points at the DW Stadium and not allow Manchester City a sniff at the title. However, some squad rotation is a must due to this midweek fixture and there's no point at exerting players at this late-stage of the season when the lead is currently comfortable. It seems more prudent to keep deploying the first-choice players on a week's rest -- something Fergie can do for the remainder of the season -- so that fatigue is a limited factor for the final five league fixtures. Just take a look at our 'noisy neighbours', specifically David Silva and Sergio Aguero -- for an example of running your key players into the ground.

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