Manchester United host Huddersfield on Boxing Day, hoping to continue their excellent record during the festive period and record a much-needed home victory over lowly opposition.
They will, under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær, be expected to do just that. Even a United side as inconsistent as this one should have few troubles disposing of a side in the bottom three at Old Trafford.
There may still be a feeling of apprehension, of nervousness in the stands, though. A comprehensive victory in games like this can help to restore confidence and self-belief, both of which are eminently lacking at the moment.
The situation surrounding Jose Mourinho’s dismissal has been well-documented. United, after a fairly comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Liverpool, saw fit to part ways with the Portuguese coach.
Recent form has been an issue, certainly, although United remain strong at home. They have only been beaten once, and in their last game at Old Trafford, the Red Devils put four past Fulham, and they will be expected to replicate that performance against Huddersfield.
David Wagner’s side will be buoyed, though, by the knowledge that United have drawn three of their eight games at Old Trafford this season and conceded 11 goals. They are no longer an unstoppable force at home, as they were under Sir Alex Ferguson.
For Huddersfield, after a mini-resurgence that included wins over Fulham and Wolves, there is once again a desperation for points. They are out of form and in danger of being cut adrift in the bottom three.
They will hope, then, that there is a post-Mourinho hangover at Old Trafford, that the hesitancy and lethargy that has plagued United so far this season continues. A result for Huddersfield here, regardless of the circumstances, would be a huge upset.
Mourinho, prior to his dismissal, had most often alternated between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 system. The apparent lack of any defensive discipline – usually a prerequisite in a Mourinho team – and the absence of any creativity was his downfall, though.
It remains to be seen what Solskjær will do differently. He will almost certainly look to address the defensive issues and might attempt to inject some attacking intent into the team. His Molde side, prior to his departure, were the highest scorers in the division, with 63 goals from 30 games.
Solskjær will no doubt hope to find a way to accommodate United’s forwards – the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata – in a system that allows for some fluidity. All too often this season, United have appeared laboured, bereft of ideas and inventiveness.
For Huddersfield, the gameplan will be simple: frustrate their hosts, defend compactly and ensure that they are at maximum concentration levels for 90 minutes. They are unlikely to pose much of a threat at the other end, so the intention will almost certainly be to leave with a point.
Anthony Martial, Manchester United: The Frenchman’s form has dipped slightly in recent weeks, but he remains United’s top scorer this season.
Against opposition like Huddersfield, his direct running and ability in front of goal will be key. This feels like the ideal game for him to return to his best, to restore his fragile confidence and set the tone for the second half of the season.
Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield: Without Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield might have found wins even harder to come by. In the Terriers’ two victories so far this season, the Australian has been the standout performer.
Mooy was excellent in the victory over Fulham and even more impressive in the 2-0 win at Wolves, controlling midfield on and off the ball. If Huddersfield are to leave Old Trafford with anything, they will need Mooy at his very best.
*Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell