There's no need to rest Rio ahead of Thursday's Athletic Bilbao tie
Manchester United are about to be involved in their third match during a nine-day span and following Sunday's match versus West Bromwich Albion (*), they face another two matches during the following seven days. Thus, this should be considered when selection choices are made. However, many key squad members were mostly rested versus Athletic Bilbao at the midweek while others were involved for the full 90 minutes during the intense and high-tempo match. This somewhat simplifies the decision-making. Even though manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted that he may 'gamble' by resting Rio Ferdinand ahead of Thursday's 2nd-leg with Athletic, it appears that likely won't be the case since Chris Smalling is doubtful to deputise for him.
(*) Match Preview: Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies are likely to be deployed in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 shape by manager Roy Hodgson. They'll likely be content to soak up pressure and then look to counter through the dangerous Peter Odemwingie on their right. The lineup that I propose is the a fluid 4-4-2 (it has elements of 4-6-0 or 4-2-4-0 to it) and United should be fine competing in midfield as long as Rooney and Welbeck work hard to get goalside of West Brom holding-midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu.
* David de Gea (goalkeeper): In tremendous form at the moment and there likely are few goalkeepers in the world that have matched what he's offered over the past month or so. de Gea struggled in the reverse fixture but if you anticipate the same from him here, you are definitely the haterest of the haters then.
* Jonny Evans (center-back): Like de Gea, Evans has endured moments where he has been much-maligned. Again like de Gea, Evans is in very good form and he's a clear automatic first-choice at center-back right now. United should dominate possession in this game and if they struggle to break down a deep-defending Baggies side, then the Northern Ireland international could look to step out of the back and provide support in midfield.
* Rio Ferdinand (center-back): Even if Smalling is healthy enough to feature, Rio should still start as Wes Brom -- more specifically the title chase -- should be the priority over Thursday's Europa League tie versus Athletic. West Brom will likely be dangerous on the counter and if United's defenders are caught out, the deeply-positioned Rio will need to be the covering defender -- especially for Patrice Evra.
* Fabio (left-back): Speaking of Evra, he's not in my starting XI -- again. But we all know that Evra is likely to start (sigh). Individually, United's left-back versus Odemwingie may be the most crucial defensive match-up for the home side. The West Brom attacker has bagged 5 goals during his side's current three-game winning streak -- he will be the outlet when they counter. United's left-back will be have to be careful to not get caught out.
* Rafael (right-back): I have a personal fondness for Rafa as I think that he can be our right-back of the future. I want him to stake his claim and make the right-back position his own. He was disappointing on Thursday -- most obviously on Iker Muniain's goal -- but he was playing well prior to that game. It actually wouldn't surprise me if his twin brother Fabio made a... well, surprise start here. Phil Jones is in contention as well but I'd prefer the youngster to be rested after being involved in two physical matches during the past week.
* Paul Scholes (central-midfield): A role that is often neglected for a side trying to break down a deep-defending side is the deep-lying playmaker. The focus is usually on a 'can-opener' sort of player. While incisiveness is certainly required higher up the pitch, this can be made easier if a deep-lying playmaker is successfully spraying balls around all over the pitch. What can result is that the deep-defending side is forced to come out higher in order to close down that deep-lying playmaker. Thus, space opens up in the attack. This will be Scholesy's role.
* Michael Carrick (central-midfield): The foundation of United's midfield since November. Just like Scholes -- albeit to a slightly lesser extent -- Carrick can provide the qualities of a deep-lying playmaker. Scholesy can get forward at times with late-arriving runs into the box -- while still receiving and pulling the strings from deep -- but I'd prefer Carrick to stay deep and provide cover for the marauding full-backs. The latter can sweep in the deep midfield zone.
* Ashley Young (left-winger): I prefer Young over Park for two main reasons: (1) Park's energy is generally better used only once a week as his (tremendous) stamina can wane a bit if he's used twice over just a few days. Thus, he effectiveness decreases. (2) In addition, Young's ability to beat a man off the dribble and also his propensity to draw fouls in attack could be very useful against a deep-defending side.
* Nani (right-winger): Antonio Valencia is expected to return soon so Nani is running out of opportunities to find his sometimes unplayable form. Even though the Portuguese winger can play on either flank, he certainly prefers to play on the right. Sometimes it's the flair players that use their individual brilliance to break down a well-structured side. Can Nani provide this tomorrow?
* Wayne Rooney (striker): Talisman. First name on the team sheet.
* Danny Welbeck (striker): Welbeck's inclusion with Rooney, Young, and Nani makes for a dangerous and fluid front four when they're firing on all cylinders. The deep-dropping ways of Welbeck and Rooney combines well with the varying movements of Young and Nani. This often results in quick one-touch passing and defenders being dragged out of position for midfield runners to exploit. I love Danny's all-around game but I'd love for him to start bagging goals again.