• Clash at Ashton Gate could be the perfect time for the Swede to make his full return.
  • Paul Pogba eligible again after suspension but Nemaja Matic could be rested.
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be handed a United lifeline.

Manchester United face five more fixtures before 2017 is out and with injuries lingering, Wednesday's (20 December) Carabao Cup quarter-final clash against Bristol City a chance for Jose Mourinho to rotate his squad with a trip to Leicester City awaiting them on Saturday [23 December] evening.

The United boss has never been one to take this competition lightly and with the opportunity to surpass Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough and become its most successful manager with five triumphs a possibility for him this season, his desire to lift the trophy again is likely to be burning brighter than ever.

First-team changes beckon, and the man who played the most decisive role in winning the competition for his side last season in Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be ushered in for his first starting appearance in nine months.

The Swede has made cameos off the bench against Newcastle United, Brighton and Hove Albion, Watford and Manchester City since that return in November but Wednesday's trip to Ashton Gate could be the ideal opportunity for him to come back into the starting XI – with Romelu Lukaku looking particularly drained in the final stages of the wins over Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion despite rediscovering his scoring touch.

Ibrahimovic could also renew his dynamic understanding with Paul Pogba on Wednesday. The France international has completed his three-match ban after that red card shown against Arsenal and having only recently returned from a three-month layoff, is surely the freshest man in the squad.

Nemanja Matic has been carrying a knock in United's last three matches; the Serbia international needs the night off perhaps more urgently than anyone else given his importance to the side. He could also have an able deputy in Scott McTominay who could come into partner Pogba after providing another promising display in the narrow win over the Cherries last week.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been omitted from eight of United's last nine match day squads – even making the trip to Switzerland for a Champions League tie against Basel before eventually being left out of the 18 a few hours later.

Manchester United XI vs Bristol City

His future at United looks bleak with Borussia Dortmund ready to offer him a route back to Germany; but he could be offered one last chance to save his United career against Lee Johnson's side, as hinted by Mourinho after the win over West Brom.

It could be at the back where we see the most changes. Chris Smalling has played every minute of United's Premier League campaign since the game against Crystal Palace in September and while Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones may be fit again, Mourinho may prefer the former Fulham defender's aerial presence in doing battle with Bristol City's towering defender Aden Flint, who already has six goals to his name this season.

Rojo has been rested in United's last two matches but his aggression alongside Smalling could come in handy on what could be a tough evening in Bristol.

Antonio Valencia said he was fine after limping off at the Hawthorns on Sunday but his manager won't want to take any risks with a player who was otherwise ever-present in his Premier League side this term. And having recently promised Axel Tuanzebe some game time, Wednesday could be the right opportunity to bring the 20-year-old in on the right, a position he reliably covered for his manager in the past.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic has remained on the bench in each of United's last two matches. Getty