After a somewhat disappointing draw in Belgium, Manchester United will hold the advantage with an away goal and a draw, bringing the Europa League quarterfinal back to Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho will hope his side gained momentum from the emphatic win against Chelsea this weekend, and they will need more momentum before heading to Burnley and Manchester City for two of the toughest and most important matches this season.
However, Anderlecht is playing one of the most important matches of their season, and will undoubtedly be up for the challenge. Manchester United’s key players will need to be ready, fit and firing to earn progression to the semifinals of the Europa League.
Leander Dendoncker, Defensive Midfielder, Anderlecht
With the incredible hype surrounding Youri Tielemans, it’s easy to forget Anderlecht’s other young defensive midfielder, Leander Dendoncker. Marouane Fellaini did exactly that last week, allowing Dendoncker to lose him and head home Anderlecht’s equalizer late in the match. This week, though, United will be fully aware of his talents.
The 22-year-old defensive midfielder has averaged an incredible 2.5 tackles and 3.3 interceptions in the Europa League this season, almost purely a destroyer in that sense. While he doesn’t shine in possession or attack, he quietly does his job for Anderlecht, and alongside Tielemans, forms a solid midfield unit. He can also be lethal from set-pieces, as he showed so unforgivingly against the Red Devils last week.
Nicolae Stanciu, Attacking Midfielder, Anderlecht
The Romanian attacking midfielder has had a prolific Europa League season with Anderlecht, scoring four and assisting three in just 11 Europa League matches this season, but that will mean nothing to him if he can’t produce a spectacular performance at Old Trafford under the lights.
Stanciu will be looking to achieve redemption after an awful first leg performance that saw him hooked after 64 minutes, as the Romanian failed to create a chance, or even a dribble, and Anderlecht looked far better without him on the pitch. Still, the creative midfielder, who is very risky with his pass selection, will hope to shine on a very big stage, as at the age of 23, he could still have a big future ahead of him.
Marcos Rojo, Centre-Back, Manchester United
Let me put Thursday’s match in the simplest terms- if Anderlecht doesn’t score a goal, Manchester United is headed to the next round, and we all know how much Jose Mourinho loves those types of situations. Cue praise for Marcos Rojo, who has been nothing short of world class all season and kept Diego Costa out of Sunday’s game with a disciplined and diligent performance that could’ve seen the frustrated Chelsea striker sent off.
Rojo is calm but knows when to be aggressive, step out of the back, and distribute the ball better than any other (natural) centre-back at Manchester United. Thus, he is incredibly important to the side’s attacking football and being important to the defensive aspect of play by nature of his role, people haven’t realized how important Marcos Rojo has become to United.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Striker, Manchester United
Ibrahimovic will feel no discomfort in not being included in Jose Mourinho’s plan- in fact, if the Swede is playing a second season, he will hope other players step up and score more goals, reducing the burden on him and potentially prolonging his United career. However, he will most likely be back in the side on Thursday and expected to produce.
Ibrahimovic has enlightened United fans with his ability to create something out of nothing, for teammates, or himself. He scores all kinds of goals and will be looking to reach 30 in the remaining weeks of the season, and he also adds a visible amount of personality to this United side. He’s as important to the Europa League as European glory must be to him.