Manchester United showed immense growth despite failing to win against Arsenal on Saturday, with incredible control of the match and great defending throughout. Now, with Europa League football to play on Thursday, United has dug themselves into a situation in which no less than two wins will be sufficient in the quest to win their Europa League group. Now, against a talented Feyenoord side that managed to shut them out in Rotterdam, United will need to find a way to score goals in a similar fashion to the clash at Old Trafford against PSV Eindhoven last season. On that occasion, they failed, but if United’s key players can perform to their abilities, there should be no problems.
Tonny Vilhena, Midfielder, Feyenoord
With his contract running down last year, I stated that Manchester United would do a good job to add Tonny Vilhena to the youth ranks. Vilhena, 21, has been at the heart of PSV’s midfield since 2012, aged 17, and he has been a key player for Feyenoord under various managers. If called to United, Vilhena would’ve almost definitely made the move, but he didn’t, and staying at PSV, he scored the winner against United in the first leg of this tie.
He’s been impressive at the heart of midfield for Feyenoord too, averaging 2.8 tackles, 1.8 interceptions and 1.1 clearances every game. On the ball, he completes 1.7 key passes every game. Vilhena continues to look quite the future prospect, and if he scores against United again, the scouts will be out to see.
Dirk Kuyt, Midfielder, Feyenoord
Manchester United fans are all too familiar with former Liverpool stalwart Dirk Kuyt, known for his incredible work rate and versatility. Prolonging his international career with Netherlands by playing right-wingback for Louis van Gaal’s Dutch World Cup side, Kuyt starred, much like he did when he sorrowfully bagged a hat trick to lead Liverpool above United.
Now, aged 36, Dirk Kuyt is still a regular in the Feyenoord setup, playing 16 times in central midfield and impressively earning 5 goals and 3 assists. He isn’t quite as important defensively as he was for van Gaal at the World Cup, and he can be very risky in possession, but when he gets on the ball he is the man to make things happen from the centre of midfield for Feyenoord. If the visitors are to create anything, it will almost definitely be one of Kuyt or Vilhena that gets involved in the creative process.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Right-Back, Manchester United
With Matteo Darmian figuring at left-back and Antonio Valencia on the right side for United’s starting lineup of late, United fans will hope that Mourinho decides to play Dutch prospect Timothy Fosu-Mensah at right-back against Feyenoord. Quietly impressive in his previous cameo against Zorya Luhansk, Fosu-Mensah created a goal, and he has all the physical and technical tools to be a world class defender- that being said, his all-round game is so good that he’s almost definitely a midfielder.
Fosu-Mensah won’t be winning the starting role over Valencia any time soon, but he could finally latch onto some regular playing time, and for this reason, he will have more hunger than anyone to help United into the Europa League Round of 16. Mourinho is adamant that Fosu-Mensah will not go down to the U23’s, which means that elimination from this competition could be somewhat of a disaster for fringe players in the squad who need minutes. With Carrick, Herrera, Mata and Pogba in midfield against Arsenal, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him feature there either.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Attacking Midfielder, Manchester United
Ring the bells! It has been revealed by Jose Mourinho that Henrikh Mkhitaryan should feature on Thursday, in a match where he can have less pressure on him to succeed. Mourinho seems to have finally bit the bullet and stated that his man-management of Mkhitaryan has been poor- I don’t think it reflects on him as a manager, but more so his poor luck with the situation. Mkhitaryan will be low on confidence after his isolation from the first team due to injuries, fitness problems and a poor starting performance when he was introduced to the setup in the Manchester Derby.
Mkhitaryan hasn’t showed his quality at United quite yet, but this is a player who was one of the best in Europe last season, averaging a 7.9 WhoScored rating in the Bundesliga and earning 11 goals and 15 assists. I would like to see Mkhitaryan in a midfield trio with Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Morgan Schneiderlin, in which he has the defensive ability but also the fluidity around him to put in a good performance. However, expect Marouane Fellaini to play in the midfield instead of Fosu-Mensah, or Mkhitaryan on the wing, which could be problematic at this point in time.