Manchester United look to capitalise on a strong showing against Liverpool when they come up against a familiar face in Robin van Persie as United play Fenerbahce in the Europa League. United stand third on three points in the group after their win against Zorya Luhansk in the second round, whereas Fenerbahce sits top, gaining four points from their opening two games. United will feel much more confident going into the game after a solid team performance shutting down a strong Liverpool side on Monday night but also due to the fact that Fenerbahce are struggling in their domestic competition, currently in ninth place.
Under former Sunderland and Russia head coach Dick Advocaat, Fenerbahce have endured a tough start but remain unbeaten in the Europa League beating Feyenoord, who beat United 1-0 in Holland, and drew with Zorya Luhansk in the opening round. They, like United, favour the 4-2-3-1 formation but have been known to switch to 4-4-2 to allow both Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Emenike to start in their favoured position. Their problem hasn’t been scoring goals however as they’ve scored 12 in their opening seven league fixtures, its been keeping them out that’s troubled them conceding nine in seven games. The two centre-backs who are likely to start against United are Martin Skrtel and Simon Kjaer. We all know Martin Skrtel, the former Liverpool centre-back was never short of attention during his time in the Premier League, throwing his weight about and being strong in a tackle but can be exposed easily with pace in behind as Anthony Martial exposed to great effect on his debut v Liverpool last season. Simon Kjaer is another physical player United’s striker will have to contend with but like Skrtel can be and has been exposed as he lacks pace, Marcus Rashford, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial will love playing against these two if they game some game time. Their strength lies in set-pieces at both ends, five of their 12 goals have come directly from them and having only conceded once all season.
I doubt we’ll see many surprises from Manchester United on Thursday but there will be changes to the starting eleven with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Club captain Wayne Rooney is likely to start and might well start as a number nine after only getting 15 minutes against Liverpool. This would mean Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic get a rest and could well give Rooney a bit of confidence. Juan Mata and Luke Shaw are likely to be restored to the line up, Shaw just coming back from injury will need the game time and Mata who has had a good start to the season was an unused sub against Liverpool. I’d expect United to keep the same formation 4-5-1 with potentially Schneiderlin and Carrick holding, Mata at number 10 and Rooney as the lone striker. Carrick and Schneiderlin haven’t featured much for United this season and could start against Fenerbahce on Thursday but Schneiderlin has just recovered from a niggle that kept him out of the Liverpool game so might not feature from the start. As United are at home and not against as strong an opportunity they will bomb forward, they will look to do more in the final 3rd and sit back less. Whoever plays wide, could be Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Memphis or Young, will need to do a lot to create opportunities for Rooney but they will have the time and space to do so. Fenerbahce will sit back and look to get a draw or sneak it on the counter attack so United will have to be weary of that and their aerial threat at set-plays.
Robin van Persie v Chris Smalling
Both these players will know each other rather well having played three seasons together at United but only one will come out on top on Thursday. Smalling will need to match RVP in the air and keep an eye out for his trade-mark runs in behind. Van Persie has the added bonus of his set piece taking ability but I expect Smalling to come out on top tomorrow with Van Persie likely to be isolated up front for most of the game.
Memphis Depay v Gregory Van der Wiel
Memphis Depay is unbelievably keen for game time, he’s looked okay when he’s made a few substitute appearances but he needs a positive game to really kick-start his season. Van der Wiel is an experienced right-back having featured a lot for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League campaigns. If Memphis can get the better of the experienced right-back then United will be creating chances all night long but if we see the negative side of Manchester United’s number seven, then it’ll be a long night.
Alper Potuk/Jeremain Lens v Luke Shaw
Whether its Alper Potuk or Jeremain Lens who starts on the right hand side, Luke Shaw will have to be on his toes. Both men are quick and love to get forward. There is a lot of competition in the Fenerbahce team in terms of attackers so they’ll be keen to impress Advocaat against a strong United side and Luke Shaw. Shaw will need to support attacks with his pace and link-up play but Fenerbahce will look to counter with Potuk/Lens and if Shaw can’t back with the attackers, United will struggle to keep a clean sheet.