Manchester United begin their quest for a second Europa League trophy when they host Astana, fellow Group L competitors and reigning champions of Kazakhstan. It’s a rather humbling tournament for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who were playing against varsity-level clubs last season in the Champions League. Grumbling about their misfortune won’t strengthen their chances to reach the finals in Poland next May, however the following suggestions could help the Red Devils make the most of the second-rate competition.
Play. The. Kids.
The inability to replace players in the midfield unit during the summer transfer period is a lesson United will learn the hard way all season. However, given that they are projected to edge out Arsenal as eventual winners of the entire competition, that might provide some solace every Thursday evening. Of course, this all depends on United keeping a healthy squad with who remains and OGS’s confidence in the younger players.
The likes of James Garner, Mason Greenwood, and Angel Gomes played some minutes of first-team football last year and already this season. Given this is still the big stage of European football, the aforementioned rising stars deserve considerable playing time to justify more minutes in the future. Who knows, one of them could be the missing link in a great run of results.
Take every opponent seriously
Last year, United consistently dropped points against sides where they were expected to emerge victorious. This season has already been no different, losing to Crystal Palace at home on a late goal in stoppage time. Part of United’s problems against these lower-table clubs persist because they don’t bring the same level of seriousness for these matches as they would the Manchester derby.
Founded only in 2009, FC Astana has already made some noise in the Europa League. The Blue and Yellows finished second in their 2017-18 Europa League group and went on to hold Sporting Lisbon away in the last-32. Manchester United will be Roman Hryhorchuk’s side’s first ever English opponents.
If United want to bolster assertions that they are a club that have learned from previous mistakes and intend on recruiting some of the best talent in future transfer periods, they must prove that no club is too irrelevant.
Cement the midfield
Arguably, the midfield is United’s weakest area. The mistake of allowing Ander Herrera to leave last year without finding a replacement has already cost the Red Devils points this campaign. Not mention, Nemanja Matić’s form on the field and attitude off the field doesn’t necessarily put him in discussions as a starter.
Paul Pogba is obviously United’s strongest player in the middle, but if OGS wants the Frenchman to rest in the group stages in preparation for the next round, a second option is desperately needed. Scott McTominay has been vital alongside his teammate, but the together the two lack cohesion. Pogba plays a much more attacking game and right now United is in dire need of someone who can emerge as a defensive shield.
Manchester United’s 2019/2020 domestic campaign begun with great fanfare only to be disappointed by Matchweek 3. They’re back in top-for contention (for now) and now briefly turn their focus to Europe, where we can only hope they don’t intend on making the same gaffes that triggered the ire of both critics and fans alike.