Manchester United return to UEFA Europa League action on Thursday evening as they face Granada CF at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes, which will be the first time both teams have met in European competition. United reached the quarter-final stage of the completion this season by beating both Real Sociedad (4-0 on aggregate) and AC Milan (2-1 on aggregate) after falling from the group stages of the UEFA Champions League at the end of 2020. Granada came through the qualification stages and the group stage beating Napoli and Molde with the same 3-2 on aggregate scorelines.
Granada seem to be a different team in competitions than they are in La Liga, sitting in ninth place currently and unlikely to feature in European competition next season because of this. However, as they have beaten both Napoli and Molde, both 2-0 scorelines at home in the last two knockout rounds, losing 2-1 away from home and still reaching the next round, they will be seen as the team to beat, which could be an uncertain match for United as they tend to struggle against teams they should beat easily. Hopefully this is different as United are seen as the favourites to win the competition this season.
How United have faired against Spanish opposition in European competition as this is the first time they will have played Granada.
United and Granada have not yet met in any European competition so Thursday’s match will be the first and also the first time United have played at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes. Granada have not yet faced any English opposition in European competition either, so in a week’s time, it will be their first time playing a competitive match at Old Trafford, the Theatre of Dreams. United have faced Spanish opposition many times, including beat Real Sociedad in the round of 32 stage of the competition this season, winning 4-0 in the first leg and drawing 0-0 in the second, winning 4-0 on aggregate.
United also faced Sevilla in the semi-final of the competition last season, losing 2-1 in the one-legged match with the competition being delayed and switched to one-legged matches after the round of 32 stage because of the coronavirus pandemic which raged around the world. United have pedigree in facing Spanish teams in European competition, facing Barcelona, Valencia, Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, Athletic Club, Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruña and Atlético Madrid. United have played 59 times against Spanish opposition, winning 14, drawing 23 and losing 22 – scoring 69 goals and conceding 80.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Granada in the UEFA Europa League at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes on Thursday evening…
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
It is suggested that Dean Henderson is now United’s number one goalkeeper and it has been suggested that David de Gea’s relationship with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is strained. I don’t know whether to believe the sensationalism here but it is clear that Henderson has the talent to succeed in his career and he has done well at United so far. However, there are so-called ‘fans’ with an agenda that suggest United are obsessed with English players to a point whereby it is xenophobic. What a load of rubbish. United are an English club that has history priding themselves on bringing through talent from the home nations.
Henderson is the first goalkeeper to have come through the academy and got as far as he has. He did well on loan every season for the past five season (before this one) when he was loaned to Stockport County, Grimsby Town, Shrewsbury Town and Sheffield United, where he spent two seasons one in the Championship and one in the Premier League. Henderson is at the beginning of his United career and should be supported. De Gea has been a great servant to the club and has, at times, been the difference that the club needed, which will give us all great memories of the player at the club.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United can afford to take a risk against Granada in this match and that will be giving some rest to Victor Lindelof, who was a doubt ahead of the Brighton match but ended up playing because Eric Bailly is not back inn the country after testing positive for coronavirus. Lindelof should be left on the bench, just in case he is needed, giving Axel Tuanzebe a run out, which will be good for him. He played very well at times this season, especially against Paris Saint-Germain. Harry Maguire should keep his place in the team as he is a hard worker and can play the whole season in his position, as he has shown since he signed for the club.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka will probably play at right-back but Brandon Williams could probably be risked so perhaps he could play ahead of Wan-Bissaka. If not, he could play both against Granada on Thursday and Spurs on Sunday, especially after having a two-week break because of the international break, having not been called up by England. In the left-back position, Alex Telles, providing he overcomes the illness that kept him out at the weekend, could start ahead of Luke Shaw, who should be rested until Sunday, unless United have a mare and need him to come on, which was the case against AC Milan in the last round.
Midfield: Donny van de Beek, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba
A three-man midfield might change things up a little for United as the 4-2-3-1 formation could be a reason why United have been stagnant when it comes to scoring goals recently. United could afford to risk this as the injuries across the midfield have ceased giving Solskjaer his whole midfield to choose from to get the best from his team. Bruno Fernandes could be rested, as United will need him at his best on Sunday as the Red Devils look to get revenge on Spurs following the 6-1 defeat at the start of the season. Solskjaer cold give Donny van de Beek a start, which would be good for him to regain some confidence.
Along with Van de Beek, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay could both start, giving United a good attacking midfield with McTominay doing the defensive work, if required as the Spanish side may not be expecting United’s might, which should be shown in the away leg, aiming to settle the tie, like they did against LASK last season and Real Sociedad earlier this season. Pogba is a player in good form right now, dispite his poor distribution against Brighton and McTominay always gives his all for United, which is one fo the positive things he does as a player. He’s scored seven goals this season too, matching Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani.
Forwards: Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani, Daniel James
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, there tends to be three forwards on the pitch which will be the same in a 4-3-3 formation but this formation could make United an attacking side, allowing Pogba in his favoured midfield position and allowing Van de Beek to shine. This could help United’s attack who should be scoring goals galore with their experience. Marcus Rashford has a 50% chance of featuring for United, which means he probably will but United could risk having him on the bench, ideally keeping him fresh for Sunday, which will be a big match. Edinson Cavani should play as the striker, aiming to right the wrongs from his performance on Sunday.
Cavani has seven goals to his name this season, which could be his last at the club, meaning he should aim to score more so he can be looked back upon as a player that gave something to the club. Mason Greenwood, who scored the winner against Brighton at the weekend, should start again as he is young enough to play back to back matches – he could also provide some width and pace, even cut into the middle and cause some damage to the Spanish team. Daniel James should start instead of Rashford as his pace could be deadly and he has been known to score a goal or two in the Europa League and will be due another soon.
Substitutes: David De Gea, Lee Grant; Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Brandon Williams; Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic, Shola Shoretire; Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga
Solskjaer can use five substitutes in the Europa League, so he will have a chance to change things up if that needs to happen. United normally name the rest of the squad on the bench in Europe, which could be as many as 12 players. Both David De Gea and Lee Grant could be on the bench with Dean Henderson keeping his starting place in the team. In defence, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams could eb available to choose from, should they be needed. United need to score away from home based on the last two legs which have seen Granada win 2-0 at home and lose 2-1 away, going through on aggregate.
In the midfield, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Amad Diallo, Nemanja Matic and Shola Shoretire could have some involvement in the match and Juan Mata has returned to training this week after his lay off, so he could also be back in action, although this match might be a bit too soon for him, especially after losing his mother recently. In attack, Marcus Rashford could be on the bench, just in case he is needed but keeping him fit for Spurs on Sunday would be better, the same could be said for Fernandes. Solskjaer added Anthony Elanga, who has returned to fitness after a collarbone injury, to his Europa League squad, so he might get some involvement too.
Written by John Walker