Manchester United take on West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon, looking to bounce back from last weekend’s humiliating 5-3 defeat at the hands of Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
United boss Louis van Gaal admitted this week that this could be his toughest job in football management - but the challenge is unlikely to get any easier this weekend.
The veteran Dutch coach has an injury crisis on his hands, with all three of Manchester United’s first-choice centre-backs out injured and Tyler Blackett suspended.
Van Gaal confirmed during Thursday’s press conference that Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling will all miss this weekend’s fixture. Subsequently, Marcos Rojo is expected to move to central defence from left-back, with Luke Shaw coming in for the Argentina international.
Shaw to make competitive debut
This will be the England international’s competitive debut for Manchester United, having missed the opening weeks of the 2014/15 campaign with a hamstring injury.
Reports today suggest that Van Gaal remains keen to sign Wolfsburg left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, but this weekend’s match will be a chance for Shaw to prove that he is both good enough and fit enough to become a first-team regular at Old Trafford.
Tom Thorpe or Paddy McNair?
So, who partners Rojo in central defence? Van Gaal has little choice but to hand a senior debut to a player from Manchester United’s Under-21 squad. Reports suggest that Paddy McNair could get the nod, but the more experienced Tom Thorpe - who spent time on loan at Birmingham City this year - is the more likely choice.
Daley Blind is another option, although the Netherlands international should continue his role in defensive midfield, with Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick still working their way back to full fitness.
Ander Herrera and Angel di Maria will continue in central midfield, but it’s an altogether tougher task predicting who might occupy the three forward positions.
Wayne Rooney, the United captain, will start - but will he be deployed in the hole or upfront?
Mata in; RVP out
Juan Mata was unfortunate to miss out last weekend against Leicester City, and the in-form Spain international could be handed a start against the Hammers this weekend.
Should this happen, then expect Rooney to line up alongside Radamel Falcao, with the out-of-sorts Van Persie dropping down to the subs’ bench.
Manchester United predicted line-up
De Gea; Rafael, Thorpe, Rojo, Shaw; Blind, Herrera, Di Maria; Mata, Rooney, Falcao.
Manchester United 3-2 West Ham.