Nemanja Matic’s renaissance last year started with his half-time introduction in the semi-final first leg against City. Matic plugged the gaps, scored the winner in the second leg and performed in the Old Trafford league triumph in March.
The 32-year-old neutered Wolves winger Adama Traore and was an upgrade on a sloppy Scott McTominay against Aston Villa. Matic was dubbed ‘incredible’ by Pep Guardiola last year and warmly acknowledged by the Catalan during his warm-up in December, given the game will not go beyond extra-time, he is fresh enough to last the full 90 minutes.
Henderson to return?
Dean Henderson went through a post-match goalkeeping session on New Year’s Day in anticipation of two possible starts this week. Henderson, a starter in all of United’s Carabao Cup ties this term, has not conceded a goal in the competition and is expecting to line up against City tonight and Watford on Saturday night.
Retaining David de Gea could cause ructions, especially as Sergio Romero decided his United career was over after he was dropped for the Europa League semi-final in August. Romero has no intention of playing for United again and is back in Argentina, so Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has got to soothe Henderson’s itchy feet.
Change of formation?
To some observers, United deployed a diamond against City last month and others concluded it was a 4-3-3 formation. Solskjaer enthusiastically revealed United used his preferred 4-2-3-1.
United had the personnel to revert to a diamond against Villa but went with the same attacking quartet that lined up against City in December. Paul Pogba produced his standout performance of the season from the left on New Year’s Day and Rashford is not as reluctant a right winger as he was under Jose Mourinho.
Guardiola to open up?
Frank Lampard and Pep Guardiola have little in common as coaches other than they were both ultra cautious in 0-0s at Old Trafford. Rodri and Fernandinho lined up to counter United’s counter-attacks just under four weeks ago but City had a breakthrough performance in the dismantling of Chelsea on Sunday.
Semi-final hoodoo to end?
United have won a semi-final fixture under Solskjaer; it was just not enough to force extra-time in last year’s two-legged duel. In truth, City let them off the hook in a week where they squandered enough chances against United and Tottenham to win a month’s worth of matches and lost both.
Harry Maguire conceded United ‘didn’t turn up’ for their meandering FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea and their wastefulness cost them in the last four of the Europa League against Sevilla.