Manchester United face Anderlecht at Old Trafford in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg on Thursday night in a match with all to play for. A week ago, United draw 1-1 in Belgium with Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring the opening goal and Leander Dendoncker equalising minutes from time. United had the away goal they were pushing for but will need to score more at Old Trafford, maybe ensuring the Belgian side to not score at the Theatre of Dreams, which would be good considering David De Gea kept a clean sheet, his twelfth in the Premier League this season, against Chelsea at Old Trafford. United still have two chances to earn Champions League football next season, by finishing in the top four in the league or winning the Europa League. There will be many key battles on the famous pitch at Old Trafford on Thursday night, here are just three of them…
Zlatan Ibrahimovic -v- Bram Nuytinck
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was effectively rested against Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday, playing just eight minutes at the end of the match, which will keep him fresh ahead of the visit of Anderlecht on Thursday evening. The Swede is United’s top scorer with 28 goals in all competitions this season and he will be looking to build on that. United need goals and will be looking to have their name in the draw for the semi-finals on Friday. Zlatan may have missed many opportunities this season in front of goal, but the sheer fact that he is a prolific goalscorer throughout his entire career will mean that success could be within his control. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera did what was needed of United against Chelsea, it will be the big Swede’s turn to do just that on Thursday evening. Dutch central defender Bram Nuytinck might well find himself looking after Zlatan, well, trying to stop him from scoring, which could see the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial et al reign supreme with the space afforded by marking the Swede. Nuytinck may well have his work cut out in the physical aspect of the match, which could well be enough for Anderlecht to come away from Old Trafford with a semi-final place in the bag, although United will do all they can to stop that.
Paul Pogba -v- Youri Tielemans
Paul Pogba is a player that whilst playing in the Premier League, has been consistent in the form shown in his four seasons at Juventus. With the Premier League being more prestigious, that shows an improvement in the player which many fail to see because they are basing his performances in the £89 million transfer fee as if the money paid guarantees goals. Anyway, Pogba is a player that have massively improved United’s midfield this season, despite not playing in his preferred position, on the left of a midfield three, it does make me wonder what this side with Pogba in that role would be like. Pogba’s battle with Youri Tielemans may not be a head-to-head battle as such, but one to rule the roost in the midfield based on grinding out the passes to the forward players, creating chances and maybe even getting shots of their own. Both players are blessed with talent, that is evident based on what both have achieved in their early careers, but on the night, the one who does the most for their team will rule the roost, and it looks to be an evening for Paul Pogba to shine, maybe not in the eyes of his critics, many of whom show that their understanding of the game is based on Football Manager or FIFA 17. Paul Pogba will grow at United, become the midfielder many have wanted since Roy Keane and Bryan Robson, perhaps not in the same physical and mental states of both players, but being himself, doing what he does best.
Marcos Rojo -v- Leander Dendoncker
Marcos Rojo is very much one of the men of the moment this season. Last season, it seemed like the Argentinian was set to leave the club, but under the leadership of manager Jose Mourinho, Rojo has picked up his form and seemingly secured his place in this Manchester United team. Injury to Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, which seems to be a definite each and every season has strengthened that for Rojo, whose partnership with Eric Bailly seems to be going from strength to strength. Earlier in the season, it was Rojo and Jones who looked a strong partnership, so the Argentinian has been a constant throughout the season. Dealing with the threat of Chelsea at the weekend saw Rojo reign supreme with every opposition attack, with United ensuring that no shots on target were fired towards the goal of David De Gea. Leander Dendoncker, the scorer of the equaliser a week ago could well be a threat to Rojo, but looking how he and his teammates managed to thwart Chelsea in every attempt, I am sure Rojo will be more than confident he can stop this Anderlecht team from taking anything from the Theatre of Dreams.