Thursday night football is back with another Europa League barnburner straight out of Serbia. Manchester United make the thousand mile trek to take on Partizan Belgrade with top spot in Group L on the line. Here’s everything that you need to know ahead of the match.
(1) There’s just no figuring this Manchester United team out. After scuffling their way through the season’s first two months, United (sorta) shocked the football world by holding the vaunted Liverpool juggernaut to a 1-1 draw on Sunday. The Reds jumped out to a first-half lead through Marcus Rashford, only for Adam Lallana to break Old Trafford hearts with an 85th minute equalizer. Still, with practically everyone expecting a blowout loss, it was a strong result — and might even prove a turning point.
(2) United’s midweek trip to the continent kicks off a stretch of four away matches in ten days. That’s a big ask for any team, let alone one ravaged by injuries and hapless on the road.
(3) Both clubs enter the match even on four points atop Group L. Partizan Belgrade leads United on goals scored, so this one should go a long way towards determining the eventual group winner. And, with AZ Alkmaar facing winless FC Astana, the Reds could easily drop down to third if they fall short of victory on Thursday.
(4) As if United’s ongoing road woes weren’t a big enough hurdle, the Reds must also contend with the complications of an 1,100+ mile trip. After the group draw, everyone pinpointed the grueling travel of Group L as United’s biggest obstacle, so let’s see how the squad copes on Thursday. The match also comes just days before a tricky trip to Norwich. Yes, away to the 19th-place Premier League team officially qualifies as tricky these days.
(5) Earlier this month against AZ Alkmaar, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made eight changes from the team that drew 1-1 against Arsenal. Brandon Williams impressed on his senior debut and Diogo Dalot looked lively up and down the right flank, but all the rest were pretty pathetic. This damp squib ended 0-0 with United unable to muster even a single shot on goal. If Ole gives his squad players another chance on Thursday, they must do better.
Clubs who have failed to have a shot on target in a Europa League game in the past three years include Skenderbeu Korce, Zorya Luhansk, Osmanlispor and Manchester United.— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) October 4, 2019
(6) The Partizan Belgrade match, more than others, will reveal Solskjaer’s expectations for this competition. United’s top four bid looks doubtful, making the Europa League the club’s best shot to get back to the adult table of continental football. Will the boss bring a strong squad to Serbia, even if that jeopardizes their chances at Norwich on Sunday? Can he afford not to?
(7) A quick Manchester United injury update:
- Nothing new on Paul Pogba, so don’t count on him suiting up for this one.
- Nemanja Matić will miss out on a Serbian homecoming after Solskjaer ruled him out for a while with a nagging, but undisclosed, injury.
- Axel Tuanzebe picked up a hip injury while warming up for the Liverpool match, robbing him of a derby day start and thrusting Marcos Rojo into the new-look back three.
- Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw are reportedly getting closer to a return.
- Diogo Dalot issued this fitness update on Twitter:
During the Newcastle game, as you all know I picked up an Injury, I am now recovering, and already looking forward to joining back up with the team as soon as possible to help the boys get back to where we belong! #MUFC ❤ pic.twitter.com/ReR8UiXBMJ— Diogo Dalot (@DalotDiogo) October 22, 2019
(8) Who fills in? None of the more advanced youth players were involved in Monday’s U23 win over Swansea City, hinting at their possible involvement against Partizan Belgrade. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy Garner and Brandon Williams join the usual suspects (Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong) in Thursday’s squad.
(9) Although Partizan Belgrade dropped a 1-0 loss to Mladost Lucani on Saturday — their second Super Liga setback in a row — they’ve been in strong form for most of the season. Belgrade sit fifth in the league table, but with a game in hand that could catapult them up to second with a win.
(10) Manager Savo Milosevic has only been in charge since March, but already led his side to victory in the Serbian Cup last season. Partizan Belgrade create goals from all over the pitch, paced by leading scorer Umar Sadiq, 17-year-old Filip Stevanovic, Lazar Markovic (ex-Liverpool), vet Zoran Tosic, and Seydouba Soumah.
(11) Partizan Belgrade are unbeaten in their last eleven European home matches. After playing the last two in an empty stadium as punishment for racist chanting, Milosevic hopes that the home crowd will pay Manchester United players the same respect that he received during his time in England:
When I played at Aston Villa, during the conflict in my country, my people had a bad reputation in England and Western Europe.
If I, as a Serb, have been shown maximum respect in England, Spain, and Italy, then reciprocating that respect is really the least my people and I can do when Manchester United comes to visit us.
(12) A bonus entry to commemorate the most heartwarming Manchester United scene of the week: