Manchester United will be hoping to end an agonising season on a high when they welcome Cardiff City to Old Trafford on Sunday.
After a long and arduous season, it has all come down to the final gameweek, which will see all ten matches being played at the same time. While the title race between Liverpool and Manchester City will grab most of the eyeballs, Manchester United will be intent on ending their dreadful campaign on a strong note, when they play hosts to Cardiff City at Old Trafford.
It has been a season to forget for Manchester United. While they have enjoyed their fair share of memorable moments, Jose Mourinho’s dismissal coupled with a run of results that has seen them win just two of their last 11 games means they will not be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season.
The best they can do is finish fifth, but for that they would need to see Arsenal failing to win their game at Burnley. Cardiff City, on the other hand, were one of the most heartbreaking stories of the 2018-19 Premier League season.
The Bluebirds have had their share of refereeing mishaps going against them, possibly making them the unluckiest team of the division. The tragedy involving Emiliano Sala is still running fresh in the minds of supporters and neutrals alike, while the season has already ended for them, as they brace themselves for life back in the Championship.
The reverse fixture, played at the Cardiff City Stadium back in December last year, had ended in a 5-1 win for Manchester United, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a triumphant return to his former club. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a number of significant doubts to negotiate ahead of the visit of former employers Cardiff City. On Sunday, the Manchester United boss will definitely be without Sergio Romero and Eric Bailly, with both the players recovering from their respective knee injuries.
Solskjaer is also sweating over the fitness of Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku, Antonio Valencia (all match fitness) and Alexis Sanchez (ankle). While the three forwards might be allowed to sit this one out due to reasons we will revisit soon, Valencia is primed for a final appearance at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer has indicated that he would like to give the winger-turned-full-back a fitting send-off after a decade’s service at Manchester United. The final decision on whether he starts or makes an appearance on the bench will likely be determined by a late fitness test.
Meanwhile, a number of academy products trained with the first-team heading into the game, with the likes of James Garner, Dylan Levitt, Arnau Puigmal, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood hoping to get a look-in against Cardiff.
Among them, Chong and Greenwood are likely to receive their first Premier League starts, with the duo comprising two thirds of the Manchester United attack. Garner too, might make his full debut for the club, with Scott McTominay his alternative.
The other two spots in the middle of the park are expected to be taken by Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, with the latter set to play his final game for Manchester United after announcing his decision to leave the club in the summer.
At the back, Valencia might start, but the other three places ought to be handed to the regulars, with Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw set to start. Finally, David de Gea should start in goal once again, as he looks to end a dreadful season with a solid showing between the sticks.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): de Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Garner, Pogba; Chong, Greenwood, Rashford
Neil Warnock has seen three of his first-team players reach the end of their campaigns already, with Sol Bamba (knee), Joe Ralls (hamstring) and Callum Paterson (ankle) done for the season and only likely to return in time for pre-season training.
On-loan duo Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa are, meanwhile, battling to shrug off minor niggles. Should they be unable to do so, the two players might have played their final game for Cardiff. Even if they are not fit enough, Warnock has enough players to cover for them in the final game.
Bruno Ecuele Manga will continue filling in for Bamba, with Cardiff captain Sean Morrison being his partner at the heart of the defence. Lee Peltier and Joe Bennett should complete the defensive line that will provide cover to Neil Etheridge for one final time this season.
In the middle of the park, with as many as four central midfielders likely to miss out, the double pivot will automatically be manned by Leandro Bacuna and Aron Gunnarsson. The attacking quartet should comprise of Bobby Reid, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett and Danny Ward.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Peltier, Morrison, Ecuele Manga, Bennett; Gunnarsson, Bacuna; Hoilett, Reid, Murphy; Ward
1. Manchester United Clean Sheet – NO @ 1.61
2. Over 3.5 Match Goals @ 2.00
1. Over 2.5 First Half Goals @ 4.00
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last eight league meetings with Cardiff City (W6 D2) since a 0-3 away loss in November 1960.
- Cardiff have never kept a clean sheet in 15 away games against Manchester United in all competitions (W3 D6 L6).
- Manchester United have won 18 of their 26 closing day Premier League games, more than any other side in the competition. The Red Devils have not lost such a game since 2006-07 (0-1 vs West Ham United).
- Manchester United have kept just two clean sheets at Old Trafford this season. Even if they don’t concede in this game, it will be their fewest home clean sheets in a single league season since 1962-63 (2),
- Neil Warnock has lost all four of his away matches at Old Trafford as a manager – with Notts County in 1991, Bury in 1998, Sheffield United in 2007 and Crystal Palace in 2014.
- Manchester United have given more players their Premier League debuts in the final match of the season than any other side (11), with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær handing out two debuts in his only previous final day Premier League match as a manager when he was Cardiff boss in 2013-14 (Tom James and Rhys Healey).
Player to Watch
It has been a long and winding season for Manchester United as an entire unit, a season that is sure to have left the players exhausted. One player who will be raring to have a final go though, is club captain Antonio Valencia.
The Ecuadorian has endured his worst-ever campaign at Old Trafford, having gone on a downward spiral upon being entrusted with the captaincy. But, after a decade-long stint with Manchester United, it is his time to play without any performance pressure, as he leads the side out for one last time.
So, at the end of a tough journey, that has seen him reinvent himself quite successfully as a full-back, Valencia will hope to bow out on a high. Expect Old Trafford to give their club captain a rousing farewell, as the veteran rides into the sunset.
Manchester United 2-0 Cardiff City
Manchester United have shot themselves in the foot really, over the last couple of months or so. The Red Devils had their top four fortunes in their own hands, as they sat pretty ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea. Fast forward to the final day of the season, it is a wonder if they manage to win a game at all.
But, Cardiff City, despite their fair share of misfortunes, have been easy target for several of the big name clubs, including United themselves, earlier in the season. While the hosts are unlikely to run riot like the reverse fixture, the fact that they will be playing without any pressure might just bring the best out of them.
A number of young stalwarts will be on show as well, and one can expect the likes of Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood and James Garner to put on a show to impress Solskjaer. The Hard Tackles predicts a 2-0 win for Manchester United, that might still see them finish 5th, provided Arsenal are not victorious in their game against Burnley.