PREVIEW By North-west correspondent Alex Stevens
The pressure is on Manchester United to rescue something from what is turning out to be a desperately disappointing season.
They head to bitter rivals Manchester City on Sunday aiming to claw back the four-point advantage that Manuel Pellegrini’s team have in the race for the final Champions League position.
One of the few shining lights for United has been the emergence of Marcus Rashford, whose extraordinary start to his career has lifted a team, a club and an entire fanbase.
But manager Louis van Gaal could opt to start the striker on the bench against City after his starting role in seven consecutive matches within just three weeks.
The 18-year-old played the entire 90 minutes against Liverpool on Thursday as he showed further glimpses of his immense potential.
He could be held in reserve as an impact substitute at Etihad Stadium, allowing Anthony Martial to spearhead the attack and Jesse Memphis Depay to start on the left after being overlooked for the Liverpool clash.
Van Gaal will then perm two of Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Bastian Schweinsteiger for the central midfield positions.
With Mata absent, Herrera is likely to be pushed forward into the No10 role and Fellaini could make way for Michael Carrick.
Schweinsteiger returned for the final 11 minutes against Liverpool but Van Gaal might prefer to gradually phase him back into the team following his two-match injury absence.
In defence, the experience of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind should make them shoo-ins, and Van Gaal will assess Rojo in training before deciding whether to start him for a fifth consecutive match.
The growing availability in the full-back position could mean Guillermo Varela, who has impressed in recent weeks, starting at right-back and Matteo Darmian filling at left-back.
Manchester United (possible) De Gea; Varela, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger; Lingard, Mata, Depay; Martial