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.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
In the past, in cup competitions, David De Gea was largely rested, other than the UEFA Champions League with Sergio Romero given the nod ahead of the Spanish goalkeeper. Whether this happens under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains to be seen though. Romero has not played since pre-season but whenever he has been given the chance, he has always performed to the best of his ability, which has led to him being branded as the best number two at the club.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Ashley Young
I really cannot see many changes in defence for this match due to the injuries, especially in the fullback positions. Unless Solskjaer calls in youth, such as Brandon Williams, which would be good to see, I would expect both Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ashley Young to play in these positions. In the centre of defence, I think Axel Tuanzebe will be given a chance, with Victor Lindelof rested. Harry Maguire should be trusted to add some leadership and experience to this side. I cannot see both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo being trusted, having played no football so far this season. That would be too much of a gamble.
Midfield Three: Scott McTominay, Fred, Angel Gomes
As Paul Pogba is on the sidelines through injury, also with the West Ham United match on the horizon, keeping him out of this game will be good for rotation at the weekend, if he is fit to play. Scott McTominay should keep his place in midfield with Fred replacing Nemanja Matic. Playing in a 4-3-3 formation instead of the 4-2-3-1, which I do not feel compliments this squad, Angel Gomes could play in the advanced position in midfield, tasked with creating chances for his forward teammates, which could work well in this match, maybe give him more minutes in the future.
Attacking Midfield: Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, Daniel James
Anthony Martial missed the visit of Leicester City at the weekend and he could be out of this match too, which would not be all the big of a problem, as personally, I feel him being available for the West Ham match would be better, being that United need to keep pressure on those around them in the table. In the Europa League, it is the group stages, meaning the pressure is not as tough giving them other opportunities to take charge of their group. I think a mix of youth, talent and some experience could be good for this forward line, opting for Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James spearheading United’s attack.
Substitutes: David De Gea; Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo; Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, James Garner; Marcus Rashford
The players on the bench will be tasked with steering United to victory, either from a victorious position or coming from behind. United will need to win at Old Trafford at all costs. The starting XI I selected should be good enough to cause problems for Astana, who are coming to Old Trafford possibly being the underdogs themselves. Having the likes of Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and David De Gea on the bench adds experience with James Garner adding some surety in midfield, should he be granted the chance to shine on the Old Trafford turf.