Manchester United begin their Europa League campaign with a tough test against Dutch club Feyenoord. Currently sitting at the top of the Eredivisie and unbeaten in the league, Feyenoord will present a stern first round challenge. United will be hoping to use this opportunity to bounce back from derby day defeat at the weekend. Under manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Feyenoord were successful in the KNVB Cup last year as well as securing a third place finish in the league. They will be hoping to build this year’s domestic and European campaign on that success and will be eager to show their quality against the tournament favourites. The club performed well domestically last season to earn a Europa league spot. Yet they came up short in each of their meetings with teams above them, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax. Unable to beat each home or away, Feyenoord will be looking to show that they can handle the big occasions this time around.
Manager: Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Taking over in 2015, Giovanni van Bronckhorst wasted no time bringing silverware to the club. A successful domestic cup campaign the culmination of an impressive first year. As a player, Van Bronckhorst was pivotal to both Barcelona and the Netherlands. Winning the Champions league in 2006 was the highlight of an impressive playing career. Before taking over as the manager himself, Van Bronckhorst worked as an assistant to current Everton manager Ronald Koeman. His club experience, coupled with tutelage under one of the Premier Leagues outstanding managers, bodes well for his future career in management. He demonstrated his potential by guiding Feyenoord to domestic cup success last season and maintaining a win percentage of 61.7% for the campaign. His Feyenoord play in a compact style, restricting the space in front of defence for the opposition to exploit. Yet this often leads to a high defensive line opening up space in behind and inviting incisive balls in behind.
Heracles Almelo 0-1 Feyenoord
Feyenoord 4-1 Excelsior
Feyenoord 3-1 ADO Den Haag
Predicted Starting XI
Key Player: Dirk Kuyt
Feyenoord captain Dirk Kuyt is no stranger to United fans after several years on Merseyside in the red of Liverpool. With 23 goals in all competitions last season, the Dutchman was instrumental in the club’s third place finish. He has continued his goal scoring form into this season where he is enjoying a late career bloom in his home country. He had the form for scoring against United in his Liverpool days, with a memorable close-range hat-trick in the latter days of his run in front of the Kop. His advancing years are likely to make him less of a threat this time around. The athleticism of Manchester United’s new-look back four should have the legs to cope with his high energy approach. Yet his versatility, often operating in a wide forward role or even in midfield, will make him difficult to pick up. His determination and work-rate marked him out as a key player for Liverpool and keeping track of his movement will be no easy task. Communication between midfield and defence will be key as United seek to nullify his threat.
Feyenoord 0-2 Manchester United
These two sides have might twice before in European competition, with Manchester United winning both during the 1997 Champions League campaign. Yet times have changed for both sides and the Feyenoord that United face in the Europa League this season will be a different proposition. Van Bronckhorst’s side are enjoying a good run of form domestically and will be eager to show this on the European stage. Conversely, United remain in a transitional phase and arrive in Holland on the back of a chastening derby day defeat. Saturday’s match showed how far United still have to go to return to title-winning form. Mourinho may see the Europa League as an unwelcome distraction from regaining domestic dominance for the red half of Manchester.
Changes to the starting eleven are likely with a league fixture against Watford on the horizon. Mourinho has already confirmed that Marcus Rashford will play after an impressive cameo at the weekend. Anthony Martial should also return to the starting line-up. This pace and youthful exuberance up-front should be able to exploit the high defensive line Feyenoord favour. Players with the passing range of Carrick, Herrera or Pogba should be able to cause problems for the back four of Feyenoord. United will need to defend with more conviction than during the Manchester derby but Mourinho’s experience in European competition is second to none. He should be able to take all three points home from the Netherlands.