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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. Club Brugge

The Reds can finish the job at Old Trafford

Club Brugge v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: First Leg Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

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

(1) Last week in Bruges won’t go down as one of Manchester United’s better performances of the season, but job done nonetheless. That 1-1 result puts the Reds squarely in the driver’s seat of this cup tie, mostly thanks to Anthony Martial’s precious away goal. Club Brugge struck first after the United defense misplayed a booming Simon Mignolet kick, which allowed Emmanuel Dennis to chip in the opener. But Martial gave United the advantage (at least on away goals) with his own cool finish later in the first half.

(2) While the first-leg result will please Manchester United well enough, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lamented the defensive breakdown that led to Club Brugge’s goal:

There’s many things to their goal that we can look at. Of course, we can’t switch off when they’ve got a goal kick. Apparently, it was our corner — it should have been — and the ball was rolling when he kicked it. Apart from that, we should still look after that one long pass. Football is a game of errors and we’ve made one there and they got a goal from it. But we scored from their error, so that evens out and I’d rather 1-1 than 0-0.

(3) Another point of frustration for the United boss was the Europa League game ball:

It was a difficult game against a well-organized team in difficult conditions. I don’t think it was one of the best games that anyone has seen. A bit sloppy concentration-wise, but the conditions with the pitch and the ball makes it hard. [The ball] is just different and difficult to play with. You can get one and try! It’s light.

(4) Both clubs enter the second leg off big victories at the weekend. Manchester United continued their climb up the Premier League table with a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford on Sunday. Bruno Fernandes scored his first goal in a red shirt from the penalty spot, Martial made it three matches in a row with a goal, and Mason Greenwood tallied his eleventh score of the season. On the defensive side, Sunday’s win also marked United’s fifth straight domestic clean sheet.

(5) Club Brugge, meanwhile, defeated Sporting Charleroi 1-0 courtesy of an Eder Alvarez goal in the first minute. The win keeps them nine points clear of Gent atop the Belgian First Division A.

(6) On Sunday, Scott McTominay returned to the Manchester United bench and even got an eleven minute run-out at the end for his first action since Boxing Day. While the club’s midfield situation initially looked quite dire after his December knee injury, the improved play of Fred and Nemanja Matić means that McTominay might be stuck on the sidelines until a chance pops up. Still, Thursday against Club Brugge would be a good opportunity to get the 23-year-old some more minutes — not to mention resting Matić (or Fred) before the big Everton match at the weekend.

(7) Although, considering how much better the backline plays with Matić in the lineup in front of them, he might need to be out there to defend against any Club Brugge away goals.

(8) Sergio Romero is the best backup goalkeeper in the world. He’s kept 31 clean sheets in 51 career appearances for Manchester United, including allowing just three goals in eleven matches this season. Yet, last Thursday, Romero committed a major gaffe by straying far off his line as Emmanuel Dennis’s deft chip opened the scoring. A nightmarish moment for the steady keeper, no doubt, but he’s more than earned the right to keep his place for this one.

(9) Club Brugge’s Emmanuel Dennis looks ahead to Thursday’s match:

We wanted victory [last week], but it didn’t work. We are now working towards the return match at Old Trafford. Everything is possible in football, so we’ll see what happens there.

(10) For Manchester United, the biggest improvement over last week needs to come in midfield. With the exception of Matić, the other midfielders — Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, and Jesse Lingard — all contributed to the club’s dire first-half performance in Bruges. If they start again on Thursday, they must be better. Or, if Solskjaer opts for Fred or Bruno Fernandes from the start, no one can blame him.

(11) The Manchester United boss sums up last week’s draw and lays out his expectations for Thursday night:

We made the decisions that we made and we’ve got an away result. We’ve got a draw, a score draw. They’ve got to come to Old Trafford, score, and if they want a win they need to score more than one. We’re looking forward to Thursday.

There’s still 90 minutes to play. We’re halfway and it’s one each. They’ve got to come to Old Trafford and score, but we want to score as well. We need to think about winning the game.