Manchester United vs Middlesbrough: Three players who must start

by Leo Nieboer

Manchester United can continue their excellent run of form heading into the new year against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho’s men, after an erratic start to the season, have cultivated some much-needed momentum in recent weeks with five successive wins.

They have a chance to extend their unbeaten run to 12 games – equalling the longest spell in the post-Fergie era – against a Middlesbrough side without an away win since August.

With that in mind, here are three players Mourinho must start on New Year’s eve.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

With 11 goals in his last ten games, the big Swede is virtually undroppable. His presence at the masthead of Man United’s attacking trio emboldens the side’s entire approach; his ruthlessness in front of goal has turned Mourinho’s men into a truly clinical, unyielding force going forward.

Saturday’s game also contains an extra incentive for the 35-year-old: he needs two goals to eclipse Lionel Messi’s currently leading total of 51 goals for the calendar year.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan 

The footballing world still hasn’t stopped talking about Mkhitaryan’s superb scorpion kick goal against Sunderland. There really aren’t many better ways to announce your return from injury, and United fans will be desperate to see the Armenian – who changed the entire mood of the game against Sunderland after coming on – feature from the start against Aitor Karanka’s men.

Daley Blind

The Dutchman has endured a spell on the sidelines in recent weeks, with Matteo Darmian occupying the left-back role in games against West Ham United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion, but received a chance to impress against Sunderland and duly delivered, producing a characteristically composed display at the back. United fans will hope to see Blind feature from the start once again.

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