Bruno Fernandes’ yellow card for dissent against Bournemouth means that Manchester United are without their captain at Anfield on Sunday.
Sofyan Amrabat and Scott McTominay will almost certainly retain their places in United’s midfield, and with Mason Mount and Christian Eriksen both joining United’s captain as absent in this game, it feels inevitable that Kobbie Mainoo steps in to complete United’s midfield at Anfield.
Mainoo produced one of United’s best individual performances of the season just down the road a few weeks ago, stealing the show in midfield against Everton, and he will be key to United playing out of intense Liverpool pressure in another hostile environment.
The Mainoo-Amrabat axis will be key to United’s hopes, and few fans will debate this, it is who plays ahead of them that will divide fans. Scott McTominay has been playing in an advanced midfield role this season for United due to his goal threat and has delivered five league goals, but many fans are concerned about his lack of involvement in other areas of United’s play and wonder whether the team needs someone who offers more in possession, to play in the advanced midfield role.
McTominay is often unfairly treated by United fans and has many qualities that, on paper, can benefit United in this game, he is a hardworking and physically powerful player whom United’s deeper players can aim for in the air when Liverpool are pressing high to try and escape pressure.
Positional issues still exist, but in the first half against Manchester City at Old Trafford, United caused their opponents some issues in transition when aiming for the Scotsman and Rasmus Højlund up front. His goal threat has already been mentioned, and he can be a direct ball carrier through the middle.
McTominay’s goal threat and duelling qualities would, for many, be enough to justify an inclusion, and it would not be a bad move to include him. But some would like United to have some creative spark through the middle, someone who can make things happen with the ball and feed United’s forwards. Hannibal Mejbri is a player who has been knocking on the door for United in his appearances so far but has not been given the opportunities he perhaps deserves.
Mejbri brings a lot of tenacity and intelligent pressing, receives excellently on the turn and carries gracefully, is a physically powerful player, and can produce moments of pure brilliance with the ball at his feet. He can also offer goals, as he showed in his cameo off the bench vs Brighton, and is a tireless runner. He will never shy away in any situation.
Concerns do exist with Mejbri, for all his tireless, tenacious running, his temperament can be lost at times, and he can find himself easily provoked or frustrated. He also sometimes can get his passing details off or make the wrong decision with the ball, this is largely down to his lack of top-level experience but remains a concern, especially against a side such as Liverpool.
But overall, he has been hugely positive in his United auditions and is a player that fans want to see more of. Some may see it as a risk to throw him into the lineup at Anfield, but in United’s current state, some risk would be welcomed by many fans. It is clear that United are lacking spark currently, and Mejbri is a player who can possibly provide that.
If United do not want to lose McTominay’s positive qualities, another solution could be to drop Sofyan Amrabat. The Moroccan has not quite shown his best level since moving to Manchester, and McTominay can play a deeper role when United are defending, something he has previously done in big games for United. In possession, he can advance with Mejbri dropping in to provide an option in United’s early possession phases – something he is comfortable doing – whilst Mainoo takes up United’s number six role.
It is highly unlikely we see Mejbri start, his aforementioned hot temperament may not be a good mix with the occasion and atmosphere. But many United fans feel that the spark he could possibly provide United with in possession on Sunday is worth taking the risk for. Right now, United are in a place where it could not harm them too much more to put Mejbri in the team on such an occasion, but it could well help them massively.
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