After a stunning comeback win against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United are turning their attention back to their Europa League campaign as they aim to wrap up their quarter-final tie against Granada, going in to the game with a two goal advantage.
In the first leg, the match up was a bit of a dull affair but goals from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes saw United leave Spain with a healthy lead going in to the second leg, which will be much appreciated by Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay who are all unavailable for selection on Thursday due to an accumulation of yellow cards so far in the competition.
Before that thrillling second half display in North London at the weekend, Manchester United’s recent performances were seen to be pretty dull, with many describing their wins as more ‘grinding out’ a result more than winning with any real style or emphasis on performance.
The match will begin at 20:00 (BST) and will be shown live on BT Sport. It will be United’s first ever time hosting Granada at Old Trafford, and will be officiated by Romanian referee István Kovács, with the German official Bastian Dankert manning VAR for the night.
After a disappointing exit in the FA Cup quarter-final to Leicester just under four weeks ago, Solskjær’s men have picked up 3 wins in a row, beating Brighton, Granada and Tottenham, picking up valuable form ahead of a big end of season push to finish both 2nd place and potentially win their first trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. In a rather impressive manner, United have only conceded one goal in their entire Europa League campaign so far, a late equaliser against AC Milan at Old Trafford in the last round.Embed from Getty Images
The Reds will be looking to keep up and extend this latest winning streak to four games on the trot, and are well aware that victory tonight would put them in to their 5th semi-final under Solskjær, where they will face one of either Roma or Ajax – however this time they will want to go one further and win the cup.
After their 2-0 loss in the first leg, Granada showed that any notion that United have won the tie already is premature, as they impressively came back from 1-0 down to beat Valladolid 2-1 on Sunday, with late goals from Jorge Molina and Quini proving that although Granada are down, they are far from out.
In other news around the Europa League, Roma recorded an impressive 2-1 win away to Ajax, and as of this moment, it looks like United may have a reunion with ex-centre back Chris Smalling, who left for Roma in 2019. Roma won their first leg courtesy of Rodger Ibañez, who scored an 87th minute winning volley.
First leg recap
The first leg was very much a game that felt like a Europa League match, unlike United’s last two ties against Real Sociedad and AC Milan. Before Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof combined to score what was a goal of top level quality football, it was quite the dull afair, with Bruno Fernandes winning and (just about) scoring a penalty right at the death of the match.
Granda’s Brazillian dangerman Kenedy, who is currently on loan from Chelsea, provided their greatest threat in the first leg, taking 4 shots at David de Gea‘s net and testing the Spaniard 3 times, twice being powerful efforts from the edge of the area.
On the night, Solskjær told BT Sport: “It’s not a perfect night – we got three yellow cards and suspensions but a 2-0 result is very good. We know how difficult it is to come to Spain to get a result like this and I’m very happy with the result.”
It was very much a night of United seeing yellow, with five of United’s players’ names going in the book, and it was much a discussion at full time, considering that many of the “fouls” committed by the Reds were arguably harsh, with the Granada players seeming to go down whenever they had the chance.Embed from Getty Images
As mentioned before, the hosts will be without Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay due to an accumulation of yellow cards, so expect to see Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles and possibly Nemanja Matic in the starting XI for the game. Despite a strong lead, previous games suggest that Solskjær will not make too many unforced changes to his line-up, as he previously fielded a strong team for United’s second leg against Real Sociedad, despite already having a 4-0 lead from the first match of the tie.
In terms of injuries, we are yet to discover the fitness levels of Daniel James, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, with the Welshman not even making the matchday squad for United’s last game against Spurs. Greenwood did feature in that game, coming off the bench to create the winning goal for United and score in the last minute of extra time, however it remains to be seen if he is fit enough to start for the Reds. Marcus Rashford did start against Tottenham, however it is well documented that he is currently nursing an injury and his 66th minute substitution pays testament to this.
Due to this, we could see Edinson Cavani continue to keep his place up front, and after his wonderful display against Tottenham, it would be hard for Solskjær to drop him.Embed from Getty Images
For Granada, they will be without both Yan Brice Eteki and Domingos Duarte, who are suspended, and there are also doubts about Luis Milla, Neydor Lozano and Alberto Soro.
Ones to watch
Thursday night could be the first time we see young winger Amad make his highly anticipated first start for Manchester United, having arrived at the club in January from Atalanta. Amad has featured for United in each of the last two rounds, scoring a wonderful header against AC Milan to open up his goal account, and hopefully the first of many for United. It will also be interesting to see who Solskjær picks to play in midfield, with Fred, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic all vying to fill the momentary hole left by McTominay’s absance.Embed from Getty Images
We could yet again see de Gea feature, as he did in the previous leg, with Dean Henderson firmly established as United’s new and current No.1. Solskjær has spoken many times about his goalkeeping options, expressing on a fair few occasions that he wants both keepers to fight for the No.1 spot and that we will see both keepers feature often as the season draws to a close.
United aim for fifth semi-final under Solskjær
After their impressive performance against Spurs, United will be hoping to not only progress into the semi-final but they will want to do it in style, with another good performance.
Solskjær has led United to four semi-finals in his tenure so far, but that is as far as they’ve got. This time, they will not only be expecting to reach to final, but to win the trophy too.
With the Europa League being the only tournament that the Red Devils remain in, United will want to stamp their authority on the competition with a good performance at Old Trafford on Thursday.