Manchester United play host to Derby County on Friday in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. The visitors currently sit second in the Championship, two spots above the Bristol City outfit that bounced United out of the League Cup last month. Managed by Gary Rowett, the Rams enter this match in good form — unbeaten in seven and with just two losses in their last nineteen games.
A year ago at this same stage of the competition, Manchester United beat Reading 4-0 en route to a run to the FA. Cup quarter-finals. The Reds lost to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge that day after Ander Herrera was controversially sent off. After this season’s failed defense of the League Cup, José Mourinho and his squad will surely relish another cup run.
But this Derby County side will certainly not be pushovers.
The Derbyshire-based club has repeatedly come close to promotion to the Premier League in recent years and again looks to be among the Championship’s best. Sparked by star forward Matej Vydra’s fifteen goals in all competitions, the Rams have overcome every challenge this season and won’t be intimidated by the Old Trafford mystique.
In fact, Manchester United’s middling form has given Derby County reason for optimism. “It’s a great ground to play at and, if anything, I think it’s probably a good time to go there,” explained Derby County center back Curtis Davies. “Manchester United haven’t done too well in the league lately and I think if you can keep them quiet for a little while, you might be able to get something. Ultimately, though, they are still one of the best teams in Europe and you need to be wary of that.”
United snapped a four game winless run by beating Everton at Goodison Park on New Year’s Day. The shorthanded Reds — playing on just 48 hours of rest — ran out deserved 2-0 winners and regained some much-needed momentum in the process. It was an all-around encouraging result; hopefully the first of many in 2018.
Manager José Mourinho will likely rotate some of his players for this cup tie, but — considering Derby County’s sparkling form and United’s injury woes — don’t expect wholesale changes.
One key regular probably earmarked for a rest is David De Gea. Sergio Romero played in the club’s first three FA. Cup matches last season, so the Argentinian goalkeeper should be trusted for this one.
Elsewhere in defense, Ashley Young serves the second game of his suspension, leaving Victor Lindelöf to once again deputize at right back. Axel Tuanzebe came off the bench at Everton for his first Premier League appearance of the season and might be in line for further minutes on Friday. In his pre-match comments, Mourinho cast some doubt on whether Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling would be available for Derby County’s visit. Both will be evaluated closer to the match before the manager reaches a final decision.
The exciting news for Manchester United is that Romelu Lukaku stands a chance of making a shock return for this 3rd Round cup tie. After the Everton win on New Year’s, Mourinho hinted that the Belgian frontman had suffered no ill effects from last weekend’s head clash and might be available for the match.
Anthony Martial capably led the line in Big Rom’s absence, so he should continue in his preferred forward position if Lukaku can’t go on Friday evening. Jesse Lingard also continues to be a goal-scoring threat, with seven tallies since late November. No matter which attackers are selected, United should have enough goals in the team to see off Derby County.
After a fast and furious December, Mourinho and his entire Manchester United squad will be happy for a much quieter January. A win over the Rams at Old Trafford on Friday would send United into the upcoming ten-day break on a high.
By the time the club returns to Premier League action on January 15, the playing staff should be in much better health — with recovered players and perhaps even a few new signings to bed in. Lose to Derby County, though, and it will be a long ten days for manager and players alike.