Our top Manchester United XI to face Villarreal - why Telles, Van de Beek & Lingard should start

Football writer Michael Plant details how the Red Devils should approach the important group-stage clash.

<p>Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles warm up before a game. Credit: Getty.</p>

Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles warm up before a game. Credit: Getty.

It may be Michael Carrick’s first game in charge, but the caretaker Manchester United manager has plenty of big calls to make for Tuesday’s game against Villarreal.

A win for the Red Devils would guarantee their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, while a loss could see them end the night in third.

United were completely outplayed by Villarreal at home in September, and it took a late Cristiano Ronaldo winner to wrap up a fortuitous victory for the three-time European champions.

Carrick needs to avoid a similar situation at El Madrigal, both for United’s chances of winning and his hopes of retaining the managerial role for a longer stint.

Villarreal v Manchester United kicks off at 5:45pm at El Madrigal.

Tactics and shape


At Old Trafford, Villarreal completely overran United in midfield and throughout the campaign they’ve failed to control the flow of matches.

So adding an extra midfielder would make sense in Spain, and opting for a 4-3-3 shape would suit the Red Devils best.

One of the few bright moments this season came away to Tottenham Hotspur, when United counterattacked with fluency and directness. Again, this is a tactic which could serve Carrick’s men well against Villarreal.

United have also kept just two clean sheets all season, something the caretaker boss must try and rectify. While time is limited, Carrick could be advised to instruct his players to sit deep on Tuesday night, limit spaces for the opposition to play, avoid any risky passing sequences, while looking to attack the opposition quickly.

This is also the first of four weeks in a row where United have two games, so rotation and fitness will be on Carrick’s mind, especially with Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge approaching.



This is the simplest decision of the night for the temporary manager. David De Gea has been United’s best player of the season to date and is a shoo-in to start.

The Spaniard pulled off several impressive saves in the last meeting between the sides and will be hoping he’s less busy on Tuesday night.


Harry Maguire is suspended for the weekend clash with Chelsea and United’s captain should probably start despite his poor run of form.

Harry Maguire was sent off in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last game in charge. Credit: Getty.


Without Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof represents the best option for Carrick, with Eric Bailly too much of a risk to face his former side.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has also been poor of late, but with Diogo Dalot and inadequate alternative, the former Crystal Palace man has to start at right-back.

On the other flank, Luke Shaw is a doubt with a concussion after he was replaced during the weekend loss to Watford. Regardless of whether the England international is fit to start, he should have been dropped weeks ago.

One of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest mistakes was repeatedly selecting out of form players, and Alex Telles, who has impressed during his limited game time, deserves the opportunity to start at left-back.



Nemanja Matic played the full 90 at Vicarage Road at the weekend and, at 33, may not have the legs to start in Spain. Fred has been a liability this season, so Scott McTominay should be entrusted to shield the back four on Tuesday.

Bruno Fernandes has to start regardless of the set-up, but the No.18’s defensive output will be key if United are to stop Villarreal dominating the ball.

With Fernandes the most offensive of a midfield three, the final spot could be reserved for Donny van de Beek, who came off the bench to score at Watford.

United supporters are also keen to seen the Dutchman given game time after his slow beginning to life at Old Trafford, so starting Van de Beek could be a simple way for Carrick to ingratiate himself to the fans while also distancing him for Solskjaer’s questionable selections.



Without Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood or Edinson Cavani, the dilemma of choosing three attackers is eased somewhat on Carrick.

Cristiano Ronaldo has to start up front, with United ideally looking to counter at pace.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late winner when the sides last met in September. Credit: Getty.

Much like Telles and Van de Beek, Jesse Lingard deserves the chance to start on Tuesday, and could be deployed at right wing.

On the other side, Marcus Rashford is used to playing counterattack football from Solskjaer’s time and is the best option, meaning Jadon Sancho is relegated to the bench.

In such a system, the emphasis would be on the three forwards to break quickly, stay high where possible and exploit gaps in the opposition defence.


XI in full: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles; McTominay, Van de Beek, Fernandes; Lingard, Ronaldo, Rashford.