Tactically speaking – Manchester United

Manchester United will have to do without the services of England captain Wayne Rooney, as the forward is injured.

Rooney’s place alongside French youngster Anthony Martial in a 3-5-2 formation is set to be taken by Netherlands international Memphis Depay.

The system employed by Depay’s fellow countryman Louis van Gaal has seen the Red Devils change their style to such an extent that they have the best defensive record in the Barclays Premier League.

That record, which has seen Manchester United concede just ten goals in 14 league matches so far, has been based on three centre-backs playing in front of outstanding Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea.

However, with Rooney’s international teammate Phil Jones also out, Van Gaal may bring in youngster Paddy McNair alongside Chris Smalling and Daley Blind, or he may go to a flat back four with Blind at right-back and youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at left-back.

Smalling has been outstanding this term, growing in stature as the senior member of the defence. Mobile, strong, comfortable in possession and becoming a real leader, the former Fulham centre-half is arguably Manchester United’s most-important defender.

Alongside him, Blind is a versatile player who can fill any position across the back four, or slip into a deep-lying midfield role if required.

If he sticks with three at the back and five in midfield, Van Gaal will certainly have a strong engine room at his disposal.

In the wide positions, the tricky Ashley Young will patrol the left flank, with either Spanish playmaker Juan Mata or English youngster Jesse Lingard on the right. Even if Mata does play wide, he will come in off the touchline regularly to get involved and play in between the lines.

In the centre, Germany all-rounder Bastian Schweinsteiger will likely be joined by Mata and former Hammer Michael Carrick. Another option is France international Morgan Schneiderlin. All three are accurate passers of the ball who operate effectively when given time in possession.

Possession has been the name of the game for Manchester United, but the ‘criticism’ has been that the Red Devils do not attack quickly or often enough, considering how much of the ball they enjoy in matches.

It will be interesting to see how Manchester United play in attack, without the influential and outstanding Rooney.

The England skipper’s movement and ability create space and chances for himself and his teammates, and whoever replaces him will have to replicate Rooney’s work-rate.

As English football fans have already seen, Martial is a direct runner with the ball, who likes nothing more than to collect in the left channel and cut inside onto his strong right foot – Thierry Henry-style.

Depay is a similar player. The young Dutchman also prefers to play off the left and cut in and shoot with this right foot. Technically impressive, he can open up defences with his individual ability.

Of course, Van Gaal may change things up and go with a flat back four, two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders behind one central striker.

If he does, Young could switch to right-back, with Blind and Smalling in the middle and Borthwick-Jackson at left-back. If Manchester United do go 4-2-3-1, Carrick and Schweinsteiger will sit deep, with Mata, Lingard and either Depay or Schneiderlin behind Martial.

The beauty of having a large and versatile squad means predicting a formation and starting XI are difficult propositions, but we are sure Slaven Bilic and his staff will have examined all eventualities.

Possible team: (3-5-2) De Gea, McNair, Smalling, Blind, Mata, Schweinsteiger, Carrick, Lingard, Young, Depay, Martial