The Man United XI Michael Carrick should pick for his first game as manager
Carrick will oversee his first match as United caretaker manager tonight
Michael Carrick takes charge of his first match as Manchester United caretaker manager on Tuesday evening away to Villarreal in the Champions League. Carrick, who was a first-team coach under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has said his style may not be much different to his former teammate. But the former England midfielder has the chance to steady the ship and correct some of the mistakes Solskjaer was making in his final few months.
Here is the XI we believe Carrick should pick for the Villarreal tie.
Man United XI for Michael Carrick's first match as manager.
We have selected a 3-3-3-1 formation, with David de Gea starting in goal. The Spaniard has been one of Man United's best performers this season. He arguably should have done more to prevent a couple of Watford's goals last weekend, but De Gea is still a level above Dean Henderson, United's backup goalkeeper.
In defence, there is no place for Harry Maguire. The Man United captain was sent off against Watford on Saturday and has been in dire form all season. Maguire is desperately struggling. He returned to action after a calf injury last month and has looked short of fitness or match sharpness. At the moment, he appears to be several levels below what is required of a player at Premier League or Champions League level. The captain's armband also appears to be a burden.
In short, Maguire needs to be taken out of the firing line. He doesn't warrant a place in the team based on form.
So, Carrick should opt for a back three of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Scott McTominay. Bailly is capable of the sublime and the ridiculous, but Carrick may get lucky and see the best of the Ivorian against his former club. Lindelof has been the most dependable of Man United's defenders this season (aside from Raphael Varane, who is currently injured).
McTominay, meanwhile, should be redeployed as a centre-back for several reasons. Firstly, he is not an elite central midfielder and arguably never will be. The Scot turns 25 in a few weeks time and isn't suddenly going to morph into a top-level box-to-box midfielder. The days of talking about him as a young, developing player should be long gone. McTominay works hard and has the odd good game, but he spends a lot of time hiding from the ball when United are looking to build play from the ball.
This is might be a conscious decision, or McTominay may not always know where to position himself to receive the ball from defenders, or maybe he hasn't been coached to take up the right positions. Regardless, he arguably lacks the technique and positional sense to excel as a midfielder.
McTominay, however, plays at centre-back in a back three for Scotland and this could be his best role for United. The 25-year-old's athleticism, discipline and ball-winning ability may be better suited to a back-three.
Carrick should opt for Nemanja Matic, Fred, Donny van de Beek in central midfield. Matic is not the player he was, and he has arguably never excelled for Man United. But he is a natural defensive midfielder and United need all the help they can get to protect their shaky backline.
The same applies to Fred, a player who has been heavily criticised for his performances. The Brazilian is a shuttler, a hard-working player who can help break up play. United also need a third player in midfield to stop them from being overrun, something that happened too often under Solskjaer.
Van de Beek is the third midfielder. He rarely featured under Solskjaer, but he is a technical, attacking midfielder who proved himself at Ajax and was on the radar of Real Madrid before the pandemic struck. With Paul Pogba injured, Van de Beek deserves a chance to cement his place.
This team features Jadon Sancho and Alex Telles as wingers. Sancho's struggles at Old Trafford have summed up how Man United have been missing an elite coach. The England winger was a goal and assist machine at Borussia Dortmund, where he received detailed tactical instruction and functioned as part of a cohesive forward line. At United, he has run around and looked lost. Sancho, more than any other player in the United squad, needs a coach to put some shape on a disjointed team.
In the meantime, he should have a place in Carrick's first starting XI. Sancho helped set up United's only goal at Vicarage Road on Saturday, and could solve a problem for the team - Cristiano Ronaldo thrives off crosses into the box but has had no one to provide them so far this season. When United switched to a back-three, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the right wing-back. But he is poor in possession and erratic going forward.
Sancho, one of the most forward-thinking players in United's squad, won't provide much defensive cover on the right flank, but he is light years ahead of Wan-Bissaka in possession and could be the way to unlock Ronaldo.
On the other side, Alex Telles starts. The wing-back will provide more defensive cover than Sancho on the other flank and is a very good crosser. He also scored against Villarreal in the reverse fixture. Telles, a fringe squad member under Solskjaer, is arguably currently a better option than Luke Shaw, who was brilliant for United last season, but is, like Maguire, on a poor run of form.
Bruno Fernandes starts behind Ronaldo as a second striker/attacking midfielder. The Portuguese midfielder is at his best when making late runs into the box and finding space in the final third. Ronaldo, meanwhile, may have upset the balance of the United team, and he certainly doesn't work hard off the ball, but Carrick needs to focus on what he can do and that's score goals. If United provide Ronaldo with the right service, he will deliver.
Here is the starting XI Carrick should use for his first match as Man United caretaker manager. It is not perfectly balanced but could be the best option available to the team at the moment.