European competition begins again this week and whilst some of the English teams have some work to do to progress Manchester United are huge odds-on by sports betting juggernauts favourites to reach the next round.
Having won 5-0 away in Austria before the lockdown was invoked, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can afford to rest a whole host of first team players as they welcome LASK to Old Trafford.
Once again behind closed doors, Manchester United will hope to continue their red-hot Premier League form which saw the North West outfit finish third in the final table and a place back in the Champions League for next season. The Norwegian will be hoping for European glory come the end of the month, four weeks of intense travelling and playing will mean every squad member has a part to play.
With such a big first leg advantage, United are expected to rest a majority of players who pushed the club towards the top four and give some game time to fringe players such as Juan Mata, Romeo, Diogo Dalot, Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay. Only Luke Shaw, who missed the final three Premier League games and Axel Tuanzebe are the only two players unavailable to Solskjaer allowing him to hold a strong substitutes bench should the unthinkable happen and the Austrians begin to get a foothold in the game.
LASK’s visit to The Theatre of Dreams sees a new man in charge, Dominik Thalhammer takes over the reins after much change for the club since March’s lockdown ended football for a little over three months. A points deduction for playing a full-scale practise match in May coupled with a loss of form saw the side fall away from challenging at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga and cost previous head coach Valerien Ismael his job. Three defeats from his last five games denied the club a chance to finish second with the title already well out of reach.
Given the differing form of these two clubs and the strength in depth afforded to Solskjaer a comfortable United win is predicted and should the Austrians provide any moments of scare, the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Antony Martial or Paul Pogba appearing from the bench will provide enough to get United over the line and into the quarter finals.
With possibly only Inter Milan, Sevilla or Roma in the way of European glory, winning the Europa League coupled with a return to the Champions League already guaranteed would represent a huge turn around for a club whose supporters were divided as little as six months ago as to whether Solskjaer was the right man to lead the club and as the weeks tick away into almost the new season, United are certainly now heading in the right direction.
Ahead of the Europa League contest, Solskjaer spoke at a press conference where he appeared to be in a bullish mood, disclosing injury updates and floating a short teaser on who may gain a start at Old Trafford.
“Axel started to get niggles early on when we restarted and he had to have an op in his foot,” Solskjaer said. “He’ll be back early September. Luke sustained an injury against Southampton and he’ll be ready again early September, they should both be ready when the league starts.”
The Gaffer continued:
“Jesse will be starting tomorrow but the team won’t be too different from the last time we played LASK away in March. We know it was a difficult game. It wasn’t a 5-0 difference [between] the two teams, winning 2-0 after 60 minutes, scored three goals in the last five. We know we have to perform and there’s an opportunity for players to stake a place in the quarters if we get through.”
According to Stretty News, Solskjaer is expected to make some changes to the team that produced a resounding first-leg victory, including a start for the aforementioned Lingard and a debut appearance for teenage defender Teden Mengi.
“There could also be an opportunity to start for at least six more players that have progressed through the club’s academy ranks. As reported by the Metro, teenager defender Teden Mengi is in line to make his first-team debut with one of Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelof likely to be rested. Ethan Laird could also be given his third Europa League appearance of the season at right-back after training with the first-team after lockdown.”
In retrospect, there’s not a better time for Solskjaer to test and tinker with budding prospects than in a tie that has been set in stone since March, before the mandated standstill. The second-leg represents a weighty opportunity for the team’s young charges to strut their stuff, glean some much-needed experience, and perhaps even flourish on the big stage amidst the anticipated absence of some of the club’s high-profile figures.
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