Manchester United will return to UEFA Europa League action on Thursday evening when they welcome Granada to Old Trafford for the very first time. United beat the Spanish side 2-0 last Thursday in the quarter-final first leg of the competition and hold the advantage in this match. United will be boosted by their victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. It was a controversial match with United taking the lead early but the goal was ruled out. Son Hueng-Min eventually scored with United coming from behind to score three goals. In coming from behind, United have now earned 28 points in the Premier League, 12 more than any other club.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have a foot in the door to the semi-final of the competition this season. The draw has already been made and they will face either AS Roma or Ajax, with the Italian side having the advantage with a 2-1 aggregate scoreline. United reached the semi-final of the Europa League last season, losing to Sevilla, who were knocked out of the Champions League. United should be seen as the favourites to win the competition this season. Diego Martínez’s side are also boosted after beating Real Valladolid 2-1 on Sunday. This was their first win in four matches, with the club losing four in a row.
How United have faired against Granada and other Spanish teams in European competition.
United and Granada have met once in the history of both club with United winning 2-0 last Thursday. This puts them in with a good chance of winning the tie. They will need to score a few goals at Old Trafford. Granada had not yet faced any English opposition in European competition before meeting United last week. United have faced Spanish opposition many times, including beating Real Sociedad in the round of 32 stage of the competition this season. United won 4-0 in the first leg and drew 0-0 in the second, winning 4-0 on aggregate. If United win this match they will reach the semi-finals for the second season running.
United also faced Sevilla in the semi-final of the competition last season, losing 2-1 in the one-legged match. The competition was delayed and switched to one-legged matches after the round of 32 stage because of the coronavirus pandemic. United have pedigree in facing Spanish teams in European competition. The have faced Barcelona, Valencia, Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, Athletic Club, Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruña and Atlético Madrid. United have played 60 times against Spanish opposition. The have won 15, drawn 23 and lost 22 – scoring 71 goals and conceding 80.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Granada in the UEFA Europa League at Old Trafford on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
The Spanish goalkeeper played against Granada last week and with Dean Henderson playing against Tottenham Hotspur, it would seem like David De Gea is now the cup goalkeeper. His experience will be key in matches like this as United will be seeking to make the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League this season, then looking to win it if they get to the final. United have to be the favourites to win the competition this season and will face either AS Roma or Ajax if they reach the semi-finals. United are in a period of good form, losing once in their last six matches but need to make Old Trafford a fortress again.
Solskjaer will be happy with what De Gea has done this season, even if he did seem to be out of form many times and making many mistakes. Still, form is only temporary, as they say. In his decade at the club, De Gea has done some wonderful things and winning a trophy this season, of which the club has one chance, would be good for both him and the club. It could well be his last season at the club with reports of his departure and the fact he is now a father to a child that lives in Spain, could be the decision behind that, if that is going to be the case. United have a top goalkeeper in De Gea but an up and coming goalkeeper in Henderson.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles
The defence is where some of the problems will lie in this match. Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are both suspended after being booked in the last match. Eric Bailly is still not back from international duty, although that is expected to happen before the match but he will not have been training so will probably be ruled out. That leaves Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe as the only experienced central defenders and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Alex Telles as the fullbacks. United do have Brandon Williams to fall back on, if Solskjaer wants to make more changes to his starting XI.
It could be problematic if United receive any injuries in this match to the defence. Nemanja Matic has played in defence before, and will be available so he could be called upon if the need arises. Other than that, Solskjaer might need to call up some of the younger players in the U23s, which has not happened yet but would need to be done on Wednesday, at least 24 hours before kick off. Solskjaer might not think it is necessary but you never know what will happen. Maguire is one card away from a two-match suspension in the Premier League too after being booked on Sunday. If he’s booked against Burnley, he will be suspended again.
Midfield: Fred, Paul Pogba
Scott McTominay is out of this match due to suspension, so United will have to call in other players to fill the void. United have Fred, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek to fall back on so there are many options. This cannot be said for the defence, especially the central defensive places. Solskjaer might opt for Fred to start against which would be good for him after getting the equaliser against Spurs on Sunday which is was proud of. He can offer something going forward, despite his form being terrible at times. United will miss McTominay though.
Pogba should also start in the pivot, if that is the formation that Solskjaer opts for. Who knows? Pogba has been inspirational at times this season for United and it will be a big match for the club. He will need to lead though as Bruno Fernandes might be rested, as he has been struggling for weeks now. United have a foot in the door to the semi-finals of the competition though after their two goals in Spain last week. United will need to be wary of Granada who will come to Old Trafford after winning their first match in five, losing the four prior. I am sure United have the players to get ready for this match though.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Donny van de Beek, Daniel James
There could be a few changes for United in this area against Granada. Mason Greenwood should keep his place. He needs to keep building on his confidence after scoring against Spurs in the final minutes on Sunday. The teenager is one go the good things about United’s future as he is going places but this season he has found it much tougher to get on the end of the ball and score goals. Donny van de Beek is a player that has not played a lot of football. Because of this he will be relishing the chance to feature for United and hopefully get them into the semi-final of the competition. He needs to start getting more minute on the pitch.
Daniel James could fill in for Marcus Rashford, who has not been enjoying matches recently. He still seems to be carrying an injury, despite coming through training and obviously wanting to play. Rashford could well be on the bench but I would like to see him given time off to fully recover. He might not be needed against Burnley and United don’t play other mid-week match until the 29 April. They would need to beat Granada though as that will be the date for the semi-final first leg. United have the players to get the ball into Cavani in this match and the players on the bench to show their ability and help United achieve their objective.
Forward: Edinson Cavani
The Uruguayan came back into the fold against Spurs and scored a 33rd minute goal, which was disallowed. Not giving up, he continued to help United change the game in the second half. Fred scored an equaliser in the 57th minute of the match and Edinson Cavani struck with a flying header beating Hugo Lloris to put United ahead for the second time in the match – although the first was disallowed. Cavani’s form is getting better and he positioning is magnificent and just what United need at this time as they face the remainder of the season without Anthony Martial. He received a knee injury whilst playing for France.
Cavani has eight goals to his name so far this season and will be seeking to score more. United have seven more Premier League matches and providing they beat Granada, will have two more Europa League matches. That will give him enough time to get into double figures this season, which will be an achievement. He has been injured for 30.4% of the season, which came at the wrong time for United. He has done enough to be offered a contract extension though, which would be good for United if he accepts. It would be even better for the likes of Marcus Rashford, Martial and Mason Greenwood too.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson, Lee Grant; Brandon Williams, Will Fish; Juan Mata, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic, Ethan Galbraith, Shola Shoretire; Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga
Substitutes will need to play a part in this match and United might be short of those. As yet, Solskjaer has not named any of the younger players in the squad. That could change though. I expect to see both Dean Henderson and Lee Grant on the bench for the goalkeeper places. United might even bring Nathan Bishop into the fray if they are short of substitutes. In defence, Brandon Williams is the only player that could be called upon with Phil Jones injured and Eric Bailly not yet back into the country after the international break. Will Fish has been added to the squad as a fall back option inn defence though.
In midfield, Juan Mata, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic, Ethan Galbraith and Shola Shoretire could fill somme places. As yet, Mejbri has not been included in the squad but that could change on Wednesday, which is the opportunity to add another player to the squad ahead of Thursday’s match. It may not happen though. United will name fewer substitutes for the match. In attack, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga could both be on the bench although I would prefer it if Rashford was rested. United will need to get the job done as quickly as possible at the Theatre of Dreams.
Written by John Walker