European football is back and Manchester United will host Dick Advocaat’s Fenerbahçe on Thursday in what is a pivotal game in Group A that certainly has the potential to determine how the final standings could look come December.
It’s by far the most anticipated game on match-day three as the fixture sees the return of former Manchester United striker Robin van Persie and also evokes memories of the debut of a certain young Englishman in the name of Wayne Rooney who scored a memorable hat-trick 12 years ago and who is incidentally, just 3 goals shy of equaling Sir Bobby Charlton as the club’s greatest goalscorer.
United come off the back of a hard earned draw at Anfield on Monday, stretching their unbeaten run to five in all competitions. A win against FC Zorya at Old Trafford opened their account in the Europa League but on Thursday night they have the opportunity to make a huge step in the race to qualify for the knock-out stages and also build some much needed momentum ahead of the weekend’s domestic encounter against Mourinho’s former employers Chelsea.
Fenerbahçe, sitting top of Group A undefeated, will look to build on their 1-0 win against Feyenoord on match-day two. The Turkish giants have an identical record to Manchester United in the last five games – winning the first three and drawing the two most recent games. They will travel to Manchester following a 1-1 draw at home Alanyaspor on Sunday which saw Advocaat’s team slip to ninth in the Super Liga. It’s fair to say that the Dutch boss is under some pressure which could only increase if they fail to get a result on Thursday.
United have no fresh injury concerns although Rashford was taken off as a precaution against Liverpool in the second half which Jose Mourinho later confirmed to be due to the cramps that the 18-year old had suffered. Luke Shaw came on as a substitute in stoppage time and could be in line for a start on Thursday. Martial and Schneiderlin were not involved on Monday and will need to be assessed before the game.
For Fenerbahçe, Jeremain Lens and Ozan Tufan are doubts for Thursday’s trip to England after missing their 1-1 draw with Alanyaspor on Sunday through injury.
- Fenerbahçe were the first European club to win a competitive game at Old Trafford.
- United are unbeaten in 12 European home fixtures (W9 D3) since a 2-1 UEFA Champions League round of 16 loss to Real Madrid in March 2013.
- The coaches have never met before, and Mourinho did not face Fenerbahçe with any of his previous clubs.
Antonio Valencia – Manchester United
Valencia despite not being an orthodox full back, has adapted to the defensive role well under Louis van Gaal who first tried him out at right back, something that Mourinho has continued to do since he has taken over the reins. His speed and stamina coupled with his physicality makes him a hard player to play against for opposition wingers so much so that he has been able to put these traits to good use and keep Mateo Darmian, an international full back out of the stating eleven. His reading of the game has improved considerably as he makes very few positional errors compared to an year ago meaning the Ecuadorian captain will be crucial to United’s chances against Fenerbahçe.
Robin van Persie – Fenerbahçe
The Dutch striker has had a difficult time in Turkey with the instability at Fenerbahçe not allowing him to recreate his 2012/13 form at Man United. Robin van Persie has only started one league game this season and things suggest he is curently not favored by his manager, but nevertheless he will be desperate to feature against his former club, back at Old Trafford, for the first time since leaving over a year ago. He scored an impressive 58 goals in 105 appearances for the Red Devils and clearly has the potential to upset the home side on his day.
They may be group leaders but Fenerbahçe are not in the right frame of mind as there are deeper issues at the club pertaining to the growing unrest between the board and the manager. This should see Manchester United put their foot on the gas in the Europa League at long last and make life harder for Dick Advocaat.
Manchester United 2-0 Fenerbahçe