Dan James’ performance for Manchester United on Friday night highlighted his limitations. It was as usual high on effort and low on quality.
He’ll have games like this, especially against good opponents, and it is not in his interests for United to keep starting him, when we have alternate options.
The best of these options is Juan Mata, who has really clicked into top form since Bruno Fernandes signed.
As we noted last week, Mata created 12 chances in four matches (3 starts, 1 appearance from the bench) before the break.
This week United should give the veteran Spaniard the start on the right, where he played in each of these matches.
Unlock a tight defence
Mata’s creativity could be key against a normally resolute Sheffield United defence.
They could be vulnerable, with Dean Henderson ineligible, John Egan suspended, and the team reeling from a 3-0 loss at Newcastle.
Mata has linked up particularly well with Odion Ighalo in their games together, and there is a strong case to start the Nigerian too, in place of Anthony Martial, who was lacklustre against Spurs.
United need to rotate, with a FA Cup quarter-final on the horizon, and a trip to Brighton in the Premier League days later.
If you put Mata, Fernandes, Rashford and Paul Pogba all supporting Ighalo, you have a team packed with creativity, who will score.
Mata is capable of getting in on the act too. It was him who broke down a tough Wolves side to score our only goal in 180 minutes against them in the FA Cup third round back in January.
Greenwood is an option too
One alternative to Mata and James is livewire forward Mason Greenwood. He caused Tottenham problems and was unlucky not to score an injury time winner.
But as United rotate the team, it may be better for Greenwood to start against a weaker Norwich City defence next Saturday, than a more physical Blades side.
Mata’s previous link up with Fernandes and Ighalo looked strong and was encouraging for United. It deserves another look, with Rashford and Pogba in the mix too.
Putting Dan James out there would not be the right call, and Solskjaer should look to Mata’s experience to give United an edge this week.
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