A Champions League group stage matchup with BSC Young Boys doesn’t exactly set the heart racing, but Tuesday could be a big night for Manchester United. If Valencia can’t pull off a huge upset in Turin, the Reds advance to the round of sixteen with a win over the Swiss champs at Old Trafford.
And, after this weekend, United could use a morale boost.
Everything seemed so promising heading into the Crystal Palace match. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford, and Romelu Lukaku were all available after spending much of the international break nursing injuries. For Lukaku, it marked his first start in a month. But, in the end, it didn’t much matter.
The entire United side played poorly, looking devoid of ideas and completely out-of-sorts. In a game with few real chances, the Reds settled for a single point against relegation-threatened Palace. All in all, the 0-0 draw was a disheartening moment in what’s quickly becoming a disheartening season.
Post-match, José Mourinho didn’t even try to hide his disgust at the performance. “I would say [it’s] a very bad result,” he told MUTV. “It’s not a point — it’s two points that we lost.”
If United hope to qualify for the knockout round on Tuesday, they’ll have to be better. Much, much better.
Not-so-fun fact: Manchester United have yet to score a home goal in the Champions League this season. Between the bore draw with Valencia and the 1-0 loss to Juventus, they’ve barely mustered a clear-cut chance in front of goal. Hopefully that changes this week.
Back in September, United romped to a 3-0 win over Young Boys in the Group H opener. The defending Swiss champs put up little fight, as a first-half Pogba brace provided the perfect start. Martial later capped off the win with his first goal of the season.
Unfortunately, United followed that up with two subpar performances that threw their Group H qualification prospects into doubt. But the shock win at the Allianz Stadium earlier this month swung momentum back in the club’s favor, putting the men in red in great position to advance with a match to spare.
Expect Mourinho to shuffle his defense for this one, for both tactical and health reasons. Victor Lindelöf is out after pulling up with an apparent thigh injury late in the Crystal Palace draw. Lindelöf gutted his way to the final whistle, earning plenty of appreciation from his manager for playing through the pain rather than forcing the team to play a man down. Nevertheless, the Swede looks set for a spell on the sideline.
While still guilty of the occasional mistake, Lindelöf has proven to be a bright spot in United’s beleaguered defense. This opens a spot for either Eric Bailly or Phil Jones to re-enter the starting eleven. Mourinho possibly tipped his hand last week by mentioning that Bailly might play against Young Boys. Perhaps his long exile is at an end.
Also, don’t be surprised to see major changes at fullback. Diogo Dalot made his club debut in the first meeting and stood out as one of the side’s top performers. On the other side, Luke Shaw returns from his weekend suspension and will likely resume left back duty.
Up front, Lukaku remains the big question. Should Mourinho start the big forward in hopes of kickstarting his season against a smaller team? Or would the Reds play better with a more creative attacker like Rashford or Alexis Sánchez? It’s hard to tell if anyone at the club has a good answer to this one.
Young Boys aren’t making any waves in Group H, but continue to cruise through all domestic competition. The defending champs currently hold a commanding 16 point lead in the Swiss Super League, with thirteen wins from fifteen. At the weekend, an 83rd minute goal from Miralem Sulejmani handed Young Boys a 1-0 home victory over Lugano.
United’s defense better be ready — Young Boys boast a potent attack that will pounce on even the smallest mistake. Veteran Guillaume Hoarau (14 goals), Jean-Pierre Nsame (8 goals), and Roger Assale (6 goals) all pose a threat.
With Manchester United still in a state of transition in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, Champions League advancement should never be sneered at. Just look at the Premier League table — the Reds have their work cut out just to qualify for next year’s competition.
No one’s happy about this weekend’s result. But Tuesday brings a chance to both bounce back from that disappointing draw and take a major step forward in the club’s European campaign.
“We have a game in two days, which is a good thing,” Mourinho said. “There’s not a long time to be moaning because training is tomorrow.”