Preview: Astana relatively unknown for United; Solskjaer must pick youth and experience in his squad

Manchester United -v- FC Astana

UEFA Europa League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Thursday 19 September 2019, KO 20:00 BST

Referee: François Letexier  Assistants: Cyril Mugnier; Mehdi Rahmouni Fourth Official: Jérôme Brisard

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.

Form: Astana in much better form ahead of their trip to Old Trafford. However, United will have new-found confidence after Leicester victory at the weekend.

Manchester United: WDLDWW (* denotes friendly)

Leicester City 1-0 W, Southampton 1-1 D, Crystal Palace 2-1 L, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 D, Chelsea 4-0 W, AC Milan 2-2 (5-4 on penalties) W*

FC Astana: WLWWWW (* denotes friendly)

Shakhter Karagandy 2-1 W, BATE Borisov 2-0 L, Taraz 5-0 W, BATE Borisov 3-0 W, Valletta 4-0 W, Aktobe 3-2 W

Top Scorers: Astana have scored many goals this season, which has been running since March whereas United have barely started theirs, playing just five matches so far.

Manchester United: United returned to winning ways at the weekend with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Leicester, a confidence builder ahead of tougher tests coming this month.

Goals: 3 – Daniel James, Marcus Rashford, 2 – Anthony Martial

United have had a mixed season so far, beating Chelsea 4-0, drawing 1-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers, losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace, then drawing 1-1 with Southampton before the international break. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Leicester City, returning to the top four of the Premier League.

FC Astana: Astana have scored many goals this season but they might be tested against Manchester United at Old Trafford, or rather should be.

Goals: 19 – Marin Tomasov, 10 – Roman Murtazayev, 6 – Rangelo Janga, Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson, 5 – Dorin Rotariu, 4 – Junior Kabananga, 3 – Yuriy Logvinenko, 2 – Didar Zhalmukan, Ivan Mayewski, Marin Aničić, Serikzhan Muzhikov, Yevgeny Postnikov, Yuriy Pertsukh, 1 – Abzal Beisebekov, Ndombe Mubele, Sergei Khizhnichenko

Astana started their season on the 11 March 2019 and are close to the end of the season, despite playing in the UEFA Europa League until at least December with their pre-season due to start in January. In terms of fitness, at this late stage in the season, they will be at an advantage but in terms of freshness, because of the long season, it could be a disadvantage.

Team News: Solskjaer should utilise the depth of his squad, using youth to give players a rest ahead of West Ham clash on Sunday.

Solskjaer has Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial on the sidelines with illness or injury. Aaron Wan-Bissaka could have been on that list too, had he not returned against Leicester at the weekend. Solskjaer, though may have to use the depth of his squad in order to field a team to face Astana.

David De Gea could be rested with Sergio Romero taking charge of goalkeeping duties, whilst both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have not yet played this season with Axel Tuanzebe seeking firstteam action following his off the bench appearances against Leicester this weekend. The manager may also make changes across the pitch.

In midfield, the likes of Fred and James Garner could shuffle the pack with the likes of Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong adding some of their ability to the attacking ranks in order to keep some players fit for the visit to West Ham on Sunday. Solskjaer will decide whether to take a risk or not, but he should utilise his squad.

Predicted Starting XI: Solskjaer to use a mixture of experience and youth to take on Astana at Old Trafford with exciting players being given the nod to take on the Kazakhstani side?

Solskjaer will need to look at the depth of his squad in order to keep players fresh for the upcoming matches. A mixture of youth and experienced players would be best, keeping players in the team that will become the core, allowing others to express themselves and carve future opportunities under the Norwegian this season.

Match Prediction: Unknown territory for both United and Astana as they look to start competing against each other. Who will reign supreme in the first head-to-head fixture?

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.

Manchester United 3-0 FC Astana

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.