Erik ten Hag has justified his decision to leave Lisandro Martinez out of the Man Utd lineup for the derby against Man City in favour of playing Luke Shaw out of position.
Man Utd are going into the derby with a point to prove, with some pundits feeling they are closing the gap with their cross-city rivals. But the proof will come on the pitch, as United aim to get revenge for their 6-3 defeat in the reverse fixture.
Ten Hag has chosen a lineup that starts with David de Gea in goal, behind a backline of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia.
In midfield, Casemiro will be the anchor alongside Fred, Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes. Leading the line are Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Perhaps the most questionable decision Ten Hag has made is to include Shaw at centre-back instead of Martinez. Naturally a left-back, although he has played centrally recently, the England international could be in for a tough test against Erling Haaland and company.
United have three centre-backs on the bench, in the shape of Martinez, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.
Martinez has been the busiest of them this season, making an impression since he followed Ten Hag from Ajax. But the United manager has a reason for leaving him out.
He told BT Sport: “Lisandro Martinez didn’t play that many games in the last four weeks. Charlton was the first time he played 90 minutes.
“This is a real, big game. We need him today but we will see at what point. Of course he can contribute to this back four and we can put him on.
“It is always the team first. The team has to defend properly as a unit. If the centre-halves don’t get co-operation from the rest of the team they are exposed.
“It is more than Erling Haaland. We have to defend a lot of good players from them. The most important thing is to play our game and on the ball show belief, go forward as much as possible.”
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Before kick-off, United are four points behind City in the Premier League table. And although Pep Guardiola’s side are second to Arsenal so far, Ten Hag still thinks they are the ones to catch.
The Dutch tactician said: “I think this is the best team in the league. Arsenal are leading and are doing an incredible job and are a good team as well but I think City is a big test.
“It is of course a derby but also the quality of the players and the co-operation in the team… You have to be good to win this game.”
As he alluded to, Haaland is not the only danger man that United will have to be wary of. Indeed, Ten Hag is looking further back in City’s buildup, naming Rodri as someone they have to limit.
Asked if there are any plans to combat Rodri, Ten Hag replied: “Definitely. He is the key player in building up and organising the team.”
Rodri will be playing at the base of City’s midfield in between Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. Ahead of them, Haaland will be flanked by Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.
At the back, United will have to get past Kyle Walker, Manuel Akanji, Nathan Ake and Joao Cancelo before trying to beat goalkeeper Ederson.
Ten Hag will be hoping his selection decisions can pay off as United aim to stay in the top four and claim some local bragging rights.
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