In which we expand on some of the selection questions we raised in yesterday's round table, and choose several possible XIs for Monday's big game.
Daley Blind vs. Luke Shaw
Though he appears to be fit, we suspect a lack of match sharpness will render this decision moot and work in Daley Blind's favour. But to be honest, we suspect things might have worked out that way anyway. Shaw probably has the edge as an attacking fullback, being quicker over the ground, stronger in the shoulders and better equipped to tear past the winger, either on the outside or inside. The man sustained his career-threatening injury in the opponent's penalty area, after all; even in his darkest moments, his specialness is clear. He is, we can probably assume, the future.
But Blind has three major advantages that we think would make him the choice for Anfield anyway. First, he's in pretty good form. Second, he's more experienced and more diligent; we don't think Mourinho's criticism of Shaw for failing to close down his man against Watford necessarily means that he hates him and wants him dead, as the papers seemed to think, but it did suggest that he perhaps doesn't think he's quite there yet. (Even if he did turn out to be injured.) And, finally, Blind at leftback means Chris Smalling in the middle, which means another target for Blind's corners, which as we know are pretty good. Quite intoxicating, this cynicism lark.
Marouane Fellaini vs. Not Marouane Fellaini
It feels like a vaguely existential question, this one. Working on the basis that Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are certainties to play, the inclusion or otherwise of Fellaini becomes, therefore, not just a question about the player's qualities but also one of formation and approach. Is Mourinho going to go with what's been working over the last couple of games, or is he going to acknowledge the occasion and the quality of the opposition and reinforce the midfield with the biggest lunk United have to hand? And if he does, will that demonstrate a cowardice in the face of Anfield unbecoming in a Manchester United manager, or will it show that the flinty cynicism that makes Mourinho what he is still burns?
That second question probably depends on the subsequent performance, for results determine reality. If United lose Fellaini clanks around midfield a step behind Liverpool's light-footed goblins, achieves nothing beyond picking up a stupid booking, and plays more passes into touch than the feet of his colleague, then his manager's a clown and a joke and a shell of what he once was. If he manages to disrupt Liverpool's flow and nuts one in from a corner, then Mourinho's a hard-hearted cold-blooded genius. So it goes. We'd prefer not to see him because that's basically a point of principle by now, and also because we think the former is much more likely than the latter. But if he plays, we'd understand the reasoning.
Henrikh Mhkitaryan vs. Juan Mata vs. Jesse Lingard vs. Anthony Martial vs. Memphis Depay vs. Ashley Young
Such riches. Such options. And such a delight, to think that of all United's various options to play in the wide (and possible no. 10, previous question allowing) positions, it's the 18-year-old who looks most certain to start.
As with Shaw, a lack of sharpness and match practice may preclude Mkhitaryan. Particularly since throwing him into the derby didn't end so well. Memphis and Young haven't really put together a case for starting, though one or other may get on as a substitute at some point. So it comes down to Mata, Lingard and Martial. If we were going on game-breaking potential, we'd go Martial; if we were going on recent form, previous displays at Anfield, and all-round talent, we'd go Mata. We can't escape the nagging thought, however, that it will be Lingard's scampering work-rate that carries the day. Not fun, this cynicism business.
Wayne Rooney vs. Not Wayne Rooney
No! Wait! Come ba— oh, you've gone. Fair enough.
The Why Change A Winning (Or At Least, Drawing Wastefully) Team XI
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling (c), Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mata, Lingard, Rashford; Ibrahimovic
The Full Mourinho XI
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling (c), Blind; Herrera, Fellaini, Pogba; Lingard, Ibrahimovic, Rashford
The Louis Van Gaal Memorial XI
Romero; Lingard, Bailly, Blind (c), Smalling, Shaw; Carrick, Fellaini; Rooney; Memphis, Rashford
The Come On Then, Let's Have It XI
De Gea; Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Rashford (c), Ibrahimovic, Martial