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Key Players and Battles: Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood to be amongst the key battles against Astana?

Manchester United will open their UEFA Europa League season against FC Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday evening. The Kazakhstani side will endure a 6,000 mile round trip for the match, which United will do themselves later this year. United will have some confidence after beating Leicester City this weekend, sitting in the Premier League top four.

Roman Hryhorchuk’s side is nearing the end of their season, other than playing in the Europa League until December, which might become problematic for them. The reigning Kazakhstani champions currently sit in third place in the Premier League, five points adrift of leaders Tobol who have played two matches more. Retaining their title is still possible.

This month will see United compete in three competitions; the Premier League, the Europa League and the Carabao Cup. Just three days after this match, United will travel to face West Ham United, then three days later, welcome Rochdale to Old Trafford in the League Cup, ending the month five days later at home to Arsenal – the second big match this season.

United and Astana have never met in the history of both clubs. This will be the first time and some rather unknown territory for United. In the Europa League, United won the competition in the 2016/17 season, winning ten times, drawing three times and losing twice. They first played in the rebranded UEFA Cup in the 2011/12 season, playing for times, winning once and losing three times.

Key Players: United’s youth to come in and show Astana what the club is all about in debut match between the two clubs?

Manchester United: Sergio Romero, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Ashley Young, Angel Gomes, Scott McTominay, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Daniel James

FC Astana: Nenad Erić, Antonio Rukavina, Dorin Rotariu, Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson, Marin Tomasov, Abzal Beisebekov, Ivan Mayewski, Luka Šimunović, Roman Murtazayev, Yevgeny Postnikov

Key Battles: Axel Tuanzebe v Maron Tomasov, Angel Gomes v Yuriy Logvinenko, and Mason Greenwood v Luka Šimonović

Key Battle One: Axel Tuanzebe v Marin Tomasov

Axel Tuanzebe has been on the bench for every match this season, coming off it in added time during the 1-0 victory over Leicester City at the weekend. The English youth defender will be seeking to make a name for himself at the club after positive loan spells at Aston Villa last season and half of the season before. Solskjaer will be seeking to see if he can become a contender to partner Harry Maguire or even Victor Lindelof this season.

One player that could be problematic for Tuanzebe is Astana’s top scorer, Marin Tomasov who has scored 19 goals for his club this season, despite it starting in March 2019. The England youth defender will need to have his wits about him to stop the Croatian from getting the better of the United defence. Maguire, who will most likely partner Tuanzebe could help the 21-year-old perfect his ability in the game, also mopping up if any mistake happen.

Key Battle Two: Angel Gomes v Yuriy Logvinenko

The 19-year-old has not been involved in first team action this season so far and this would be a good chance to get him involved, rather than seeing the same old football played by United, who have been lacking creativity this season. Angel Gomes has risen to his challenges at the various youth levels for United, showing his manager what he could do during pre-season. For him not to have played so far is unimaginable. He needs to be involved soon.

One player that Gomes might need to get the better of is defender Yuriy Logvinenko. The Kazakhstani is a defender but in the last two Europa League matches, he’s played in central midfield, presumably acting as a defensive-minded midfielder. This is a position that Gomes will need to get the better of in order to create chances for those further up the pitch. If he’s able to roam in the final third, he could be problematic for Astana.

Key Battle Three: Mason Greenwood v Luka Šimunović

Mason Greenwood has not yet played a lot of first-team football and this would be as good as any opportunity he could get this season. United need to keep winning in the Premier League to keep up the chase of those around them and in the group stages of the Europa League, in the first match, rotation of the squad will be effective for that. Greenwood is a predatory forward, with the killer instinct and the eye for a goal.

One player for Astana that might have some work cut out for them is Luka Šimunović. The Croatian central defender will need to have his wits about him to deny Greenwood from getting in favourable positions, which with Gomes and Chong also playing, if Solskjaer chooses them, could create a very fluid attacking line, which would be great for United and the youth. If this works, a headache for Solskjaer ahead of the West Ham United match will be a good one, which attacking players to choose.

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