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Preview: Will Manchester United continue with lackadaisical approach in must win Atalanta match?

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Manchester United -v- Atalanta

UEFA Champions League

Old Trafford, Manchester

Wednesday 20 October 2021, KO 20:00 BST

Referee: Szymon Marciniak Assistants: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz

Fourth Official: Tomasz Musiał

VAR: Tomasz Kwiatkowski Assistant VAR: Marco Fritz

Manchester United return to UEFA Champions League football on Wednesday evening as they welcome Italian side Atalanta to Old Trafford in the third match of the group stage this season. United have three points in the group this season and need another win after losing to Young Boys in the first match and beating Villarreal at the death in the second match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are in poor form after not winning in the Premier League for the past month with their last win coming against Villarreal, which was a poor performance from United but they ended up getting all three points. Something needs to give for United – they must perform.

In their last match, United were beaten 4-2 by Leicester City in the Premier League. It was a poor performance for United, despite scoring the first goal of the game and equalising minutes after Leicester took the lead. But United capitulated and conceded two more goals before the end of the match, which resulted in their biggest defeat of the season and an end to their unbeaten away run, which broke Arsenal’s record which was set in 2004. The defeat meant that the negative fans on social media were rampant in their screaming for the manager to be sacked, which is all they want to happen. It makes you wonder if they are fans at all?

Manchester United – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: LDWLLW

Leicester City 4-2 L, Everton 1-1 D, Villarreal 2-1 W, Aston Villa 1-0 L, West Ham United 1-0 L, West Ham United 2-1 W

Goals: 5 – Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 – Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, 2 – Jesse Lingard, 1 – Fred, Anthony Martial, Alex Telles

Assists: 7 – Paul Pogba, 4 – Bruno Fernandes, 2 – Victor Lindelof, 1 – Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw, Raphael Varane

Atalanta – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: WLWDWW

Empoli 4-1 W, AC Milan 3-2 L, Young Boys 1-0 W, Inter Milan 2-2 D, Sassuolo 2-1 W, Saletnitana 1-0 W

Goals: 4 – Duvan Zapata, 2 – Robin Gosens, Josip Ilicic, 1 – Remo Freuler, Own Goal, Ruslan Malinovsky, Luis Muriel, Mario Pasalic, Matteo Pessina, Roberto Piccoli, Rafael Toloi, Davide Zappacosta

Assists: 4 – Duvan Zapata, 3 – Mario Pasalic, 2 – Josip Ilicic, 1 – Ruslan Malinovsky, Aleksei Miranchuk, Luis Muriel

Previous meetings with Atalanta and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Atalanta are yet to meet in a competitive fixture, which is an unknown prospect for United and Solskjaer ahead of Wednesday’s clash at the Theatre of Dreams. United have played many Italian teams in Europe and at this time, where the club are winless in their last three matches, it could be a good time for the Italian side to take on the Red Devils. United will have had an extra day’s rest with no travel ahead of the match, but based on the form of the club, it means nothing at this time. United need to bounce back from their 4-2 defeat to Leicester City and get more points on the board in the Champions League this season.

Amad Diallo is the only player to have played for both Manchester United and Atalanta. The 19-year-old started out as a youth player at Boca Barco before moving to Atalanta in 2015, coming though to the first team in 2019. Amad played five times for Atalanta, scoring one goal before his £37 million transfer to Old Trafford was completed in January 2021, despite being agreed in the summer of 2020. The Ivorian international has represented his country seven times; four times at U23 level and three times at senior level. He was also part of the squad for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Fresh from injury, Amad could play a part against Atalanta.

Team News: Raphael Varane out for United; four or five players out of action for Atalanta, which could cause them some problems ahead of their Old Trafford outing.

Raphael Varane (Groin) is the only actual injury at the club at this time. It is likely that he will be out until at least the end of the month, maybe longer. Amad Diallo (Thigh) is back in training, and has a 25% chance of being available to face his former club. Fred and Edinson Cavani returned late from the international break, playing in the early hours of Friday morning, so both are said to be 75% fit, which looks good for Wednesday’s match, which should give them time to get over the jet lag. Anthony Martial returned from France unfit, so has a 25% chance of being available for this match. Phil Jones could also return to boost United’s defence.

Hans Hateboer (Foot), Robin Gosens (Hamstring), Berat Djimsiti (Arm Fracture) and Matteo Pessina (Calf) look set to me missing because of injury. Rafael Tolói (Thigh) made his return in the 4-1 victory over Empoli at the weekend, but needed to be replaced at half time, so he could be a doubt ahead of this match too. There seems to be some injury problems at the Italian club, which could aid United, who also have their own problems. I am sure Atalanta will be seeking to upset United and cause yet more embarrassment but United will also be looking to limit the damage that has been caused by poor form for much of the last month or so.

Predicted Starting XI: 4-4-2 formation to help United find their feet after a month of lacklustre football and poor results? Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo to spearhead the attack?

Solskjaer will need to find a way to get United firing again. His tactics seem inept. He selection has not worked and his late substitutions rarely cause a reaction that is a positive for United. The pressure the Norwegian is under will be similar to that of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho and it will only be a matter of time before that pressure intensifies with the matches against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur yet to come before the end of the month – not to mention what November has to offer with matches against Atalanta, Manchester City, Watford, Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal. Is the end of the road coming?

Against Atalanta, perhaps a switch to the traditional 4-4-2 formation could add something in favour of United? David De Gea will keep his place in goal with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw in the fullback positions. Wan-Bissaka won his appeal against a second match suspension following his red card against Young Boys. Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly could partner in the centre of the defence. In midfield, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford could occupy the wide positions with Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay in the centre. This could leave Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani to lead the line – service would need to be provided for them.

Match Prediction: If Solskjaer’s tactics change and he lets players perform to their strengths, it could be something that works well for United. But I think the same old lackadaisical approach will continue.

This is a must-win match for United if they are to have an easier chance of reaching the knockout stages of the competition this season. United already have a loss and a win in the first two matches of the group stage. Atalanta could be seen as the weaker team in the group, which means they will be the dominant side against United – as was the case last season. Solskjaer will need to ensure his tactics are spot on for this match, which is a big wish as this has not been the case much recently. If United lose, despite currently being just a point from the summit in the group, it could be the start of their exit from the competition – which is a problem.

United have talented players, many of which are not really getting a chance with Solskjaer trusting players who don’t seem to offer much and praising their performances. It is a problem which has seem lots of criticism but nothing seems to be changing. United are said to still back the manager and the direction the club are heading, as Solskjaer has got United in better shape, squad wise than Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho but there is so much more that needs to be done right to get United heading into the direction of the trophies. Another season in the UEFA Europa League would be a disaster for United and Solskjaer.

Manchester United 2-1 Atalanta

Written by John Walker

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copyright: JW