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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. RB Leipzig

Old Trafford hosts a battle at the top of the Group H table

Champions League RB Leipzig - Istanbul Basaksehir Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Wednesday’s match:

(1) Drawn into a group with two of last season’s Champions League semifinalists, Manchester United’s odds of advancing seemed long. But, after last week’s 2-1 win in Paris, three more points on Wednesday against RB Leipzig and the Reds would have one foot in the knockout rounds. The German club leads Group H on goal difference after beating Istanbul Basaksehir 2-0 in their opener.

(2) Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea at the weekend did little to dispel the common criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as incapable of unlocking a bunkered defense. The Reds shaded the stalemate, even coming close to a win with Marcus Rashford’s late curler, but can have no complaints with the result. Frank Lampard’s back three — more like a back five, really — kept United at bay and denied the likes of Daniel James and Rashford space to operate. New season, same old problem.

(3) Thankfully, RB Leipzig are unlikely to follow in Lampard’s footsteps on Wednesday night. The Bundesliga leaders know only one speed: all out. Whether in attack or on the press, Leipzig are aggressive and refuse to sit back. Expect them to push high up the pitch, playing the ball vertically to stay on the front foot, and overloading the flanks to gain a numerical advantage. This profile plays into counterattack-loving Manchester United’s hands, but RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann is quite gifted at throwing tactical curveballs.

(4) Coming out of the international break, Solskjaer seems to have found his preferred midfield pivot: Scott McTominay and Fred. The pair started in the wins at Newcastle and PSG and the Chelsea draw, controlling the middle and providing defensive support that had been sorely lacking in earlier matches. Their strong play, though, leaves Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek out in the cold. Solskjaer has found minutes for Pogba as a super-sub of sorts, but Van de Beek is still struggling for a chance.

(5) The United boss could return to the 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 formation that so befuddled PSG in the Group H opener. Axel Tuanzebe certainly deserves more minutes in defense, while it’s also a way to get both Luke Shaw and Alex Telles on the pitch at the same time. And, if Bruno Fernandes needs a rest, Paul Pogba could take his spot at No. 10 with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in front of him.

(6) After an impressive run to the Champions League semifinals and a third place finish in the Bundesliga, RB Leipzig now face life without star striker Timo Werner. It’s not just the missing goals — and Werner took a lot of those with him to Chelsea — but also how hard he worked all over the pitch. There’s no like-for-like replacement available for a guy like that, but Yussuf Poulsen and new signings Alexander Sorloth (Trabzonspor) and Hee-chan Hwang (RB Salzburg) will give it their best shot.

(7) So far, so good. Poulsen has nabbed three goals in the early going, while left back/winger Angelino — back on another season-long loan from Manchester City — has proven an unexpected scoring outlet with four goals. RB Leipzig remain unbeaten both domestically and in Europe and sit atop the Bundesliga with 13 points from five matches. And, most encouragingly for manager Julian Nagelsmann, most of that is without injured captain Marcel Sabitzer, who tallied 16 goals and 11 assists a season ago. On Saturday, the recovering Sabitzer made a quick cameo off the bench to score the winning goal from the penalty spot. The Austrian knows how to make an impact.

(8) RB Leipzig’s suffocating press, combined with the defensive brilliance of center back Dayot Upamecano, makes scoring against the German leaders a daunting proposition. They’ve allowed just three goals in seven matches so far this season, snuffing out most threats by swarming the ball once possession is lost. Upamecano has drawn interest from most of Europe’s elite clubs, with some reports even suggesting that Liverpool will move for him in January after Virgil Van Dijk’s knee injury blew a hole in their backline.

(9) Upamecano aside, RB Leipzig’s top asset is probably manager Julian Nagelsmann. Scooped up from Hoffenheim after leading the German minnows to the Champions League, the 33-year-old seems destined for one of the top clubs in Europe before too long. Other than an emphasis on counter-pressing, Nagelsmann is not afraid to tinker with different formations — sometimes playing three at the back, other times opting for a diamond midfield, or even a 4-2-2-2 on occasion. “I do not think about formations too often,” he told ESPN in September. “It is the easiest thing to recognize and to see on the pitch, but when the game starts is when things start to get weird.”

(10) RB Leipzig’s Angelino with a rather astute scouting report on Manchester United:

What I’ve seen from Manchester United so far — sometimes they’re world class, sometimes they’re average. We don’t have to hide.

(11) RB Leipzig’s 2-1 win over Hertha Berlin at the weekend kept them on top of the Bundesliga table. Hertha jumped out in front with an early goal, ending Leipzig’s run of three straight clean sheets, before Dayot Upamecano knotted it up with a rare goal just minutes later. In the second half, Willi Orban earned a second-half penalty that Sabitzer calmly converted to hand the Saxons all three points.