Manchester United will return to UEFA Europa League action on Thursday evening when they face LASK in Linz, Austria at the Linzer Stadion. The match will be played behind closed doors because of the fears surrounding Coronavirus and the spread which has seen the whole of Italy placed on lockdown in the past 24 hours. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be seeking to bet a foot into the quarter finals of the competition.
United are on a ten match unbeaten run, scoring 24 goals, conceding two and keeping eight clean sheets. In the Europa League, United are on a good run, playing eight times this season, winning five times, drawing twice and losing once, scoring 16 goals, conceding three and keeping six clean sheets. This sort of form could see United progress into the quarter finals of the competition this season.
LASK, however, also have a good run of form in the competition, playing eight times, winning fives, drawing twice and losing once, scoring 14 goals, conceding five and keeping four clean sheets. United have scored more goals and conceded fewer, which could set them aside from the Austrian team in this round of matches. Granted, they will be seeking to score away from home, sealing the tie at the Theatre of Dreams.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face LASK in the UEFA Europa League at the Linzer Stadion on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
The Argentinian goalkeeper has kept ten clean sheets in 12 appearances for the club this season, which is a great statistic, especially for a goalkeeper who is the second choice in the squad. Sergio Romero has to be one of if not the best second choice goalkeeper in the country at this moment in time. David De Gea played a massive part in United’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the weekend and allowing him to be rested for this match could be crucial as United look to keep their run alive by pushing Tottenham Hotspur aside in the league. However, if United fail to win, or draw, this match, that run will be over and United could be back to the drawing board.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence is in a rather strong position at this point of the season. In the last ten matches, they have conceded just two goals and after the start they had this season, it was looking to be one of those seasons similar to last in which United conceded more goals than they wanted to. The arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire in the summer has started to pay off as United look pretty strong at the back. The pair should keep their places in the four-man defence with Eric Bailly tasked with forming a partnership with the United captain with Luke Shaw keeping his place at left-back, a position he has played well in recently – which was possible aided by Brandon William’s form when he was given a place in the team earlier in the season, raising the bar in the position.
Midfield: Fred, Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay
The midfield has improved massively this season, especially Fred, who has stepped up his game and has shown continuing improvement throughout the season, after maybe being written off by the last manager of the club. Nemanja Matic has stepped up recently too and you can see the new-found confidence at the club, especially after the arrival of Bruno Fernandes, who has raised the bar in the midfield, and chance creation, which was needed at the club. Scott McTominay was a big miss for a large spell of the season but since his return, he has stepped up his game and did not seem all that rusty after his time on the sidelines. Solskjaer will be happy to see this midfield look stronger without much tweaking.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
The Portuguese midfielder faces LASK back in October, scoring one goal in the 2-1 victory for Sporting. Since his arrival at United in January, he has raised the bar in the squad. So many players have stepped up their game and are now aiming to help spearhead United into the squad they could be as the ingredients were there long before his arrival. In his last eight appearances for the club, Fernandes has scored four goals and three assists which shows what having in the team, as opposed to not having him, has done. United seem a much more confident team with his in it and with Paul Pogba yet to come back in, the squad could be even better, as long as he brings his best, which has not been the case the majority of the time since the Frenchman returned to the club.
Forwards: Odion Ighalo, Mason Greenwood
United have a confidant strike force at this present time, even though Marcus Rashford is out of action with a back injury. Anthony Martial has done well, as has Odion Ighalo with his three goals since he made his debut for the club last month. Martial could be rested for this game, on the bench anyway, allowing his the time to get ready for the visit to Tottenham Hotspur, who will be wounded after being knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday evening. Mason Greenwood could be given the nod to start this match, which would be good for his development and help him find his feet again after not scoring since the Watford match, however, he was an unused substitute in the last two matches.
Substitutes: Nathan Bishop; Tim Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams; Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard; Anthony Martial
United will need to have options from the bench, if needed. Nathan Bishop could be involved for the first time with De Gea being rested with a view to Sunday’s match. Tim Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams could be the defensive minded players to offer something in the game, should the need arise. In midfield, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard could be involved with Anthony Martial the forward option should United find themselves needing a goal. Perhaps Solskjaer may see Tahith Chong as a player to be involved in the game, perhaps Angel Gomes, who has not played for the first team for a while. I guess we will see on Thursday.