Manchester United travel to Somerset on Friday evening for an FA Cup fourth round tie with Yeovil Town. The two sides last met in this competition just three seasons ago, when United eliminated the Glovers 2-0 at Huish Park behind goals by Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. Nothing would please manager José Mourinho and his players more than a repeat performance and safe passage into the next round.
All eyes will be on Alexis Sánchez, who looks likely to make his club debut on Friday. The new #7 has not played in a match in over two weeks and will surely be champing at the bit to pull on a United shirt for the first time.
Ordinarily, a world-class attacker like Sánchez would not be risked in a cup tie against League Two opposition, but Mourinho needs to get his latest signing up to speed as quickly as possible. Whether he goes straight into the starting eleven or instead receives a shake-off-the-rust substitute appearance, count on Sánchez making his bow at Huish Park.
The bigger question, though, is just how will the manager deploy his new star? In one of his first interviews as a United player, Sánchez spoke of his preference for playing on the left or through the middle, but the safest guess puts his initial Manchester role on the right.
Red-hot Anthony Martial looks untouchable on the left and Jesse Lingard has thrived since moving into the #10 spot. That leaves Juan Mata, a player who never seemed ideally suited for a Mourinho team, as the odd man out. In truth, Alexis can play anywhere — he has manned every possible attacking role over the years and that tactical fluidity only makes him more valuable to the club.
Elsewhere in the Reds lineup, expect plenty of chopping and changing. A pivotal Premier League matchup at Tottenham Hotspur awaits next Wednesday, so most of the heavy lifting against Yeovil Town will fall to United’s squad players.
Sergio Romero replaced David De Gea in goal for the FA Cup victory over Derby County earlier this month and may reprise that role on Friday. At center back, Victor Lindelöf and Marcos Rojo could provide Chris Smalling and Phil Jones with a well-deserved rest. Until Eric Bailly returns from ankle surgery, United will need the Smalling-Jones partnership fresh for Premier League play — including the immense task of corralling Harry Kane and company next week.
After selecting Ashley Young at left back against Burnley, the manager explained that his decision was no reflection on Luke Shaw’s recent revival. “I’m really happy with Luke,” Mourinho explained. “I don’t need to go to the transfer market to get a left back because I’m really happy with Luke and with the adaptation of Ashley Young.”
He hinted that a starting left back will be chosen based on each match’s opponent and that both Shaw and Young will get plenty of opportunities in the months ahead. The 22-year-old Shaw probably starts at Yeovil Town, leaving the veteran Young for Spurs.
Further upfield, Ander Herrera is set to make his 150th appearance for Manchester United if chosen on Friday. Any of Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini, or Scott McTominay could also be in line for a start. Maybe Rashford even spells Romelu Lukaku up top to give the out-of-form youngster a shot at some confidence-boosting goals.
Yeovil Town advanced to the FA Cup fourth round on the back of a 2-0 defeat of League One Bradford City. The 2017/18 season, though, has become a battle for survival as the club currently sits just two points above the relegation line. In League Two, that would mean a drop into the dreaded abyss of non-league football.
To make matters even worse for the Glovers, star winger Otis Khan has been suspended for Friday’s game. The boyhood Manchester United trainee deferred several transfer opportunities to stay with Yeovil Town for this primetime match, but now will miss out thanks to a red card in the dying embers of last Saturday’s loss to Chesterfield. In a moment of madness, Khan barreled into the referee after a contentious late goal.
Manchester United started this FA Cup journey back on January 5 with a 2-0 win over Derby County and now play Goliath to Yeovil Town’s David. The club crashed out of the League Cup against lower-league opposition and will surely not make the same mistake twice.
With a huge match at Spurs coming in midweek, Mourinho needs to strike the right balance between securing advancement to the fifth round and keeping his squad fresh for an important Premier League showdown. No doubt the manager’s birthday wish — he turns 55 on Friday — includes a comfortable win over Yeovil Town to keep this cup run alive.