Dubai: 20-time English champions Manchester United will welcome Nottingham Forest to Old Trafford aiming to pick up where they left off before the FIFA World Cup halted the Premier League.
United’s last match was against Fulham on November 13 which they won 2-1 thanks to an injury time strike from Alejandro Garnacho. The Red Devils were back in competitive action last week in the Caraboa Cup where they beat Championship leaders Burnley 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals but the focus now shifts to the bread and butter which is the league.
Erik Ten Hag’s side are fifth in the table just three points behind fourth-placed Tottenham and have a game in hand. They have some favourable fixtures with Wolves and Bournemouth to come – and United fans will be hoping to see their team back inside the top four by the start of the new year.
But that is easier said than done. They must first see off Forest – who also won their last game before the World Cup, a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace – and Steve Cooper’s men will make life hard for United. Winger Jesse Lingard will be especially keen to get one over his old side.
But United have hit a run of form having lost only once since October and are playing well. Also, the fact Forest have the worst away record in the league would suggest three points for the home side. The last time the two teams met was back in 1998-99 where United thrashed the Reds 8-1 but they have a host of injury worries ahead of their return to Premier League action.
England centre-half Harry Maguire was absent for the match against Burnley due to illness while Argentinian World Cup winner Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, whose France were beaten in the final on penalties, are both still absent.
Axel Tuanzebe remains sidelined while Teden Mengi is also out meaning Ten Hag has a bit of a dilemma on his hands. Does he recall Phil Jones to the team even though he has not even been in consideration all season? Or does he deploy Casemiro back there again as he was against the Clarets alongside Victor Lindelof?
They could also be without Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot and he would be a big miss. He is probably one of the most improved players at the club. He now looks like he relishes defending and has shown a great desire in tackles and blocks and celebrates them like he has scored a goal. He has been a threat going forward as well. There may be an opportunity for academy defender Rhys Bennett to make his debut and so the back four – whoever it may be – will certainly have a patched up look about it and this will hand Forest some confidence.
But their midfield and attack will have a more familiar feel what with Antony and Fred likely to start with Bruno Fernandes with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial up front. Rashford had struggled due to a shoulder injury last season but has transformed under Ten Hag. He looks to be back to his best and he retained his sharpness during the World Cup for England.
But following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and with the January transfer window almost upon us, United will have resources to improve their squad, and one arrival could be Cody Gakpo.
The PSV winger has been linked with the Old Trafford club for months and having enjoyed a fantastic World Cup with the Netherlands United’s interest in the 23-year-old will only intensify. He is one of the most potent attacking talents in world football and he could be the final piece of the jigsaw that sees United break into the top four.
But they need to take baby steps and that means getting a win against Forest first.