Manchester United will play their fourth Premier League match of the season this weekend and they are yet to concede. Jose Mourinho’s side has gone 492 minutes without letting opposition score. The manager will be very keen on keeping the streak going.
So what changes could he make ahead of a visit to Stoke-on-Trent? The starting XI was almost the same in the opening three matches. Will he change things up or will he go with the same eleven players? There is a case to be made about one particular change. Ander Herrera should start on Saturday afternoon. Here is why.
More Solidity Away From Home
Mourinho is known for preferring a sturdier defensive shape away from Old Trafford. Last season showed Manchester United played very well away from home, not conceding many goals and often catching the opposition on the counter attack. He might just get that with Herrera in starting XI.
So far this season we have watched Nemanja Matic play wonderfully in front of defence. While that will not change for this weekend, there is no reason why both Matic and Herrera could not play together. Herrera often played in a similar role last season, but this time around he would not have to be as defensive. With Matic next to him, Herrera could help out defensively, but also pick out passes for on-rushing wingers or Paul Pogba.
Mixing Things Up
We all know Mourinho is not very keen on mixing things up too much. That goes especially when things are going well. But he will not lose the pace he needs away from home if he opts for Herrera. One of the more offensive players would have to be benched, probably Juan Mata. While the elder of the two Spaniards is a very creative outlet, he is much better when the rhythm is slower.
This might not be the case at Stoke. They are not team that will only sit around their box, as they have shown against Arsenal. Yet, Herrera could bring dynamism needed to break teams on counter attacks, something Manchester United did magnificently against at Swansea City.
Rotating 4-3-3 And 4-2-3-1
We have seen Manchester United play in a 3-5-2 formation during pre-season, but this potential change would more facilitate a 4-3-3. Matic would be the sole defensive midfielder, with Pogba and Herrera to his sides. Up front would be Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and one of the Marcus Rashford-Anthony Martial duo.
But that would often resemble to a 4-2-3-1, especially when attacking, as Pogba is more attacking minded. Herrera could stay near Matic to help prevent any possible outbreak from Stoke, while Pogba could do his thing alongside other attacking players.
What this would give Mourinho is not only defensive solidity. It is also trying different options in a more fluid system. Manchester United would be using more unpredictability in their game which they could really use against bigger sides. Mourinho could alternate between many different systems. He knows the squad much better now, he has a stronger team and players are more accustomed to mixing things a bit.
It is also good to keep teams guessing how Manchester United will choose to play against them. They lacked that in previous years.