Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revealed the team news ahead of Manchester United’s Europa League opener against FC Astana at Old Trafford on Saturday. As expected, Solskjaer has confirmed that he plans to rotate the relatively settled team that has been seen in the Premier League so far this season. Some of the rotation is necessary because of injuries anyway, but the Europa League group stage matches were always earmarked as an early opportunity to give significant minutes to some of the younger members of the senior squad.
Axel Tuanzebe — now United’s first back-up center back behind Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf — is a confirmed starter, according to the manager:
“He’s [Axel] going to start. It’s great for us because I have a big squad and we had pre-season, which went really well. Everyone was fighting for places. Then the closer we got to the league, we had to make a decision about the starting XI.
“Axel is one of them who just didn’t make the starting XI but he played well. Now it’s a chance for some of of them and we’ll have a game every four or five days now, so we’ll see some more use of the squad now. And we’ll see a few young ones tomorrow.”
Mason Greenwood, who has been involved off the bench in four matches so far this season, is also going to start up front.
“Mason will play, definitely. It’ll be his first start since Cardiff and he also needs game time.”
Still only 17 years old, Greenwood is United’s only other fit no. 9 at the moment, and Solskjaer is backing him to make the step up:
“Mason is one of the best finishers I’ve seen and I’ve played with quite a few decent ones. Just work hard every single day.
“He’s still very young, Mason. He’s maturing and he’s developed so much in the last six months since I came in. I remember the kid who just wanted to play with his mates in the Under-18s and now he’s knocking on the door and is ready to play in these games.”
Sergio Romero will take his usual place as the goalkeeper of choice in the secondary competitions, after winning the Europa League with United two years ago. Midfielder Fred, after making his first appearance of the season on Saturday, is likely to play as well:
“Fred came on and did well. We needed his legs and his sharpness and he’s been patient. He’s been working hard. He’s not a young boy, but he’s still young in his English career and, hopefully, it will kick-start his season tomorrow.”
Fred finding form on Thursday will come at a much needed time, particularly as Paul Pogba remains out with injury. The French midfielder was pictured doing individual training work — along with Luke Shaw — but neither man is yet ready to join the larger group, and may not be certainties to be involved against West Ham at the weekend either.
In other injury news, Diogo Dalot is now back in full training and could start on Thursday, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka getting a break after himself coming back quickly from a back injury suffered during the international break. In attack, Daniel James may miss the Astana match with a what Solskjaer describes as a minor knock, and Anthony Martial remains unavailable with injury. Jesse Lingard, however, is now back in training after recovering from illness.
“Jesse [Lingard] is back, which is great. He had a bad time when he was with England but, hopefully, we’ll get him on the pitch to try to kickstart his season again.
“The youngsters are raring to go. They all want to play. But I don’t think we’ll see Paul [Pogba] or Anthony [Martial], I’m sure we won’t see them. Luke [Shaw] is not ready yet. Dan is touch and go. He missed training today and [his recovery] might be longer than expected but hopefully [he’ll be back for] the weekend.”
“Diogo [Dalot] is back. He’s been training for a little while now but we needed assurances before we threw him in. We probably could have had him on the bench against Leicester last time, but now he’s ready.”
Between injuries and young players needing minutes, most of tomorrow’s team seems to have picked itself.