Europa League is back this week and in spite of being a “tier two” competition in Europe, this one has its added importance. Not only is the opposition well-known, unlike the last time, they are also significantly more competitive than Manchester United’s earlier opposition. But all the focus and spotlight will be on a certain “Flying Dutchman”. Robin van Persie, who almost single-handedly guided United to their 20th title, did not last long at the Theater of Dreams and was sold to Fenerbahce and here we are, with him playing against his former team at Old Trafford, where he will surely get a warm reception.
United should be wary of this distraction and should be concentrating to get all the three points. After the Monday night affair, this match will be completely different and the players need to be quick in adapting to the different tactics and strategies because they will be poles apart. Going to Anfield and hosting Fenerbahce at home, will always need two different setups and that is what Jose Mourinho’s task would be, to set up his players and get them ready for this vastly different setup from the last time, in just a couple of days. The manager will also rotate his squad to a certain extent considering they have another away tie just a couple of days after this game. But this time again, it has to be done with some balance as too many new players in the squad might affect the coordination and team play.
Starting XI (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper – Sergio Romero
Mourinho has been using Romero in the Europa League and the EFL Cup and he might do the same again for this game. Romero hasn’t been troubled a lot whenever he has played, more or less due to the opposition. This will give Mourinho a better idea of the Argentinian keeper’s abilities as the Turkish side will pose a lot more threats than Romero’s earlier opposition.
Back Four – Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw
Right back is one area where United do not have many reinforcements but Timothy Fosu-Mensah did improve his performances a lot during his last outing. Mourinho might persist with him in that position, keeping in mind the minutes that he needs on the field for his development. Luke Shaw is another one who missed a major part of the last month due to injuries but played a few minutes against Liverpool,suggesting he is fit to play now. Of course throwing him right in the mix for Liverpool would have been a big risk but this game comes at a good time for the youngster. The central defensive pairing might remain the same.
Central Midfielders – Morgan Schneiderlin, Paul Pogba
There might be a case to rest Pogba for this game, to have him fresh for the game against Chelsea but what he needs right now, maybe even more than rest, is confidence. He did not have a great game against Liverpool and his price-tag doesn’t help him either, by no fault of his. This might be a good opportunity for him to get some of the self-confidence back and take it from there. Unlike Pogba, his French national team colleague, has not had a lot of game time and would be eager to go out there and fight for his place as the number one holding midfielder for United. If played, this will be a huge game for Schneiderlin to prove his mettle.
Wingers – Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial
Lingard and Martial, both did not play a single minute against Liverpool and will be fresh and ready to go. Lingard has had a few outings but Martial has still not registered himself as the number one winger in Mourinho’s United. He played a nice little cameo against Stoke and will like to maintain that level in this game too.
Number 10 – Juan Mata
Mata was most probably one man who could have influenced the result Monday night, but the setup and tactics that Mourinho employed did not suit the Spaniard much. However, things would be different this game and Mata would be the linchpin for the red devils again. He has been excellent and creative whenever played in this role and it could massively improve United’s play in the final third.
Striker – Wayne Rooney
With Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both playing quite a few games on the trot, it is a good opportunity for Mourinho to start his captain and give him a good chance to make something out of it. Rooney has been under tremendous pressure and has faced quite a lot of criticism after his below-par start to the season, for the club and country. A good performance in this game will not only give him some breathing space, it might even go a long way in improving his immediate future with the team.
This might not look like a big game on the paper but it is exactly that for Mourinho and this United side. They have been under criticism for smallest of the reasons, hence a good performance and three points, is the least expected out of them. This is not a must win game but winning it would make qualifying to the next round a lot easy.