Manchester United close out the group stage of their Champions League campaign at home to CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night.
Here, Football Paradise looks at the key issues around the match.
Will United release the handbrake?
Jose Mourinho had his game face on in the pre-match press conference, suggesting there was everything to play for with neither qualification nor top spot in the group secured. That is a mathematical concern rather than a realistic one though, with United’s place in the next stage only vulnerable to an extreme and unlikely sequence of results and victory margins. In fact, this should be seen as a chance to round out phase one in style and lay down a marker for Sunday’s Manchester derby. The Red Devils will need to be at their best to see off their rivals and this should represent an opportunity to tune up.
Win or draw and United will equal a club record of 40 successive home games without defeat, the kind of statistic Mourinho would love to add to his collection. Defender Victor Lindelof thanked the Old Trafford faithful for their role in the unbeaten streak, saying: “When you are playing at home, we always have confidence. We have our fans behind us. We’ve been performing very well at home and we feel confident there.”
A Shaw thing
Luke Shaw’s presence, or otherwise, could shed new light on whether the England left-back has any future at Old Trafford. He has been promised a spot in the 18, but with just two substitute appearance in the Carabao Cup to his name this term, Mourinho needs to show Shaw he is a serious member of the first-team squad. Another cursory outing off the bench would instead offer encouragement to any clubs who are eyeing a January move for the 22-year-old.
Three and easy
Mourinho has fielded a three-man defence with wing-backs in the past two matches, securing away wins at Watford and Arsenal in the process. It is unclear whether he is a committed convert to the Premier League’s de rigeur tactic or if it is an insurance policy of sorts to paper over the absence of first-choice centre-halves Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. Either way it has allowed Lindelof and Marcos Rojo to be reintegrated into the XI without major drama and the added freedom for Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the flanks has paid dividends. Will the three-man unit get a third outing against CSKA?
Pogba’s winter break
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Paul Pogba will be the fulcrum of the United cause in a game he might otherwise have expected to sit out ahead of the derby. His red card against Arsenal, and the absence of an appeal by the club, means the French midfielder will get the kind of festive feet up most English-based players can only dream of. He will sit out games against City, Bournemouth and West Brom and should be well rested to lead the charge while others are wilting for the spell of three games in a week between December 23-30.
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