Sometimes football isn’t just about winning—it’s about playing an exciting game, about giving everything on the pitch, about giving fans something to cheer for. Tonight however, Manchester United definitely will need it to be about winning. Their somnambulist playing-style and rigid passing is bad enough, but losing to a Championship side in the FA Cup might just be enough to earn Louis Van Gaal the sack. That being said, apparently the two-pronged strategy of bullishly threatening to quit and repeatedly acknowledging failure is enough to earn a stay of execution week after week. Maybe it will keep working.
Derby aren’t exactly in the best of spirits either, though. A painful loss to fellow promotion chasers Burnley caps a run of poor form for the Rams—they’re now winless in five. It doesn’t seem to have affected manager Paul Clement, who sounded optimistic when interviewed however.
“Every game is an opportunity to put on a big performance and no motivation is necessary for this game…it is a challenge we are really looking forward to and one against a team that is not in great form,” Clement said. It seems Derby feel there’s a scalp to be had here, regardless of their own recent failings.
In terms of personnel, both managers are having to do without key names, although the case is worse for United. LVG is missing Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and long-term absentee Luke Shaw. Any one of those names could have been expected to start this game and without them Paddy McNair and Borthwick-Jackon will be taking the field. In an ideal world his manager would probably rather take McNair out of the limelight—it was his mistake in the last match that allowed Charlie Austin to score from a late corner.
In midfield, Carrick is expected to line up alongside Schneiderlin, behind a triumvirate of Mata, Rooney and Martial. It is from the midfield battle that Derby can win this game, pressuring a team that is too comfortable passing backwards and sideways. Johnson, Thorne and Butterfield are likely to be the midfield three for Derby—and that extra man could make the difference.
In attack, Blackman and Tom Ince are going to be attacking the wings with the latter’s pace and creativity hopefully coming to the fore. Ince hasn’t scored in a month and it’s been a while since his heroics against Bristol and Ipswich, but he did get an assist for the goal against Reading. It would be a significant confidence builder for this Derby side to beat United, whatever condition the Red Devils are in. And considering they’re hopeful contenders for promotion, the Rams can use whatever boost they can get.