It’s been a very tough season so far for Marcus Rashford and Manchester United.
Rashford missed the opening two months of the season after finally putting himself first and undergoing shoulder surgery, while also rehabbing an old ankle injury too.
He returned in decent form, scoring three goals in his first four appearances of the season despite the team being in a terrible place form-wise.
The manager was sacked, United were in a crisis and all eyes were on him to help the Reds climb out of their hole. He couldn’t deliver.
Rashford was still trying to get 100% fit at the time and United were trying to figure things out off the pitch.
In came Ralf Rangnick, who was tasked with getting the best from a top heavy squad at Old Trafford and getting them back on course. He immediately implemented a new formation and United’s struggles continued.
Rashford though looked even more out of place than previously. The joy from his game seemed like it was gone. He was playing in a new role that didn’t suit the team, was visibly frustrated by his and the team’s performances and couldn’t buy a goal for love nor money.
He was dropped from the team in favour of youngster Anthony Elanga, who came in and performed admirably but he lacked that X-factor that a team like Manchester United needs.
Rashford came off the bench against Brentford to slam his first goal since win over Tottenham in November into the top corner, and then in the following game he came off the bench again to score a 93rd minute winner against West Ham.
There was a smile back on his face, the fans were back on his side and United are winning again. All is right with the world.
This is a player who barring the first five months of his professional career has seriously lacked a proper coach in his life.
Mourinho stifled his growth with his defensive style of play and insistence that he spend most of the game in a wing-back position rather than in attack.
Then came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who gave him great responsibility within the team, but failed to coach an actual style into the team despite spending three years in charge.
Rangnick came into the team and tried to implement new things hard and fast, and it was just too much for the squad – including Rashford – to deal with immediately.
The talent and ability never went anywhere and with Rangnick singing his praises, it’s clear he just needed a confidence boost. The German will likely bring him back into the starting fold soon enough and he will once again go on to become a key player in the side.
Talent doesn’t disappear overnight, and neither does attitude or commitment change in that time period.
Rashford is a United fan who was down when United weren’t playing well, much like the rest of their fans. The difference is that he has a way of helping to change that, and therefore his responsibility bears more weight.
He’s going to grow as this season continues and he’s going to get better and better under actual coaching from Rangnick and whoever is brought in for next season and beyond.
Rashford is without doubt one of the best and most exciting forwards in the country and arguably the continent. He will make you eat your words, just wait and see.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has withdrawn from the England squad for the upcoming internationals against Albania and San Marino.
The 24-year-old was a member of the squad that reached the Euro 2020 final this summer, missing a penalty in the shootout as they were defeated by Italy.
Following that tournament, Rashford opted to undergo shoulder surgery to deal with a long-standing problem and subsequently missed the first three months of the campaign.
Rashford returned following the last international break and has scored three goals in six appearances, with goals against Leicester City, Atalanta and Tottenham Hotspur.
However he is yet to complete 90 minutes since his return to action and after a bout of illness last week, has opted to stay behind instead of joining up with the national team and focus on getting 100% fit.
Rashford has been in-and-out of the starting lineup since his return, but has mainly been limited to substitute appearances with Solskjaer opting for a 3-5-2 formation in recent games after a 5-0 thumping by Liverpool at Old Trafford.
With United in such poor form, they need their key players at their best to have a chance of turning it around and Rashford has been one of those senior players for a number of seasons now despite his young age.
England have called up Emile Smith-Rowe to the senior squad, with Gareth Southgate naming a relatively strong attack in his initial 25-man squad last week.
United duo Jesse Lingard and Jadon Sancho both missed out on a call-up after a lack of first-team minutes so far this season. However all of Tammy Abraham, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka were named in the squad for the two games.
Rashford and Man United will return to action against Watford on November 20th at Vicarage Road, hoping to earn a much needed win in the Premier League.
After a 5-0 thumping by Liverpool at Old Trafford just over a week ago, Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacted with a 3-0 win against Tottenham on Saturday.
It was a good reaction for a side that was clearly bereft of confidence, as Solskjaer named the oldest starting lineup of his tenure so far by partnering Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani up front together with a back five behind them.
But now as United look to continue to build some momentum when they travel to Italy to take on Atalanta tonight, Solskjaer has some decisions to make regarding his starting lineup.
The returning Raphael Varane slotted straight into the middle of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire in central defence, while Solskjaer continued to select Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw but in slightly more advanced wing-back roles.
Scott McTominay and Fred started in midfield with Bruno Fernandes alongside them, with the Scot playing slightly deeper than his teammates.
It was a team that didn’t get any highlight reels in motion, but they turned in a sturdy performance that earned them a vital three points in a must-win situation.
They face a similar situation in the Champions League tonight, where a win puts them five points clear of Atalanta with just two group games remaining meaning they should qualify for the next round.
But with confidence still not at it’s best and Atalanta proving at Old Trafford two weeks ago that they’re good enough to take the game to the Reds, Solskjaer must be careful.
There is the chance he could keep the team unchanged with his three-at-the-back formation, considering how well it worked at the weekend. Victor Lindelof hasn’t travelled due to a slight knock, so Shaw could slot into his left centre-back role with Alex Telles moving into the wing-back role in the only change.
However, with the success that Marcus Rashford had against the Serie A side in the first game between the sides and the fact he has scored in three of his four appearances since returning from injury, he probably deserves a start.
Paul Pogba is also available again after serving a suspension against Spurs, which could allow United to go with a slightly more attacking team but keeping their defensive shape in tact by putting him into a central midfield role ahead of one of the ‘McFred’ duo.
There is also the potential of Solskjaer slightly altering the shape, keeping his defensive mindset in place with the two holding midfielders while going with two attacking midfielders instead of two strikers.
That could allow for summer signing Jadon Sancho to be brought into the side alongside Fernandes and behind Ronaldo in a role familiar to him during his time with Dortmund.
The Bundesliga side used a 3-4-3 variation for large periods of his time with the club there and the 21-year-old was very productive in that role, using his combinations and dribbling well to create chances and score goals.
It would be a chance for Solskjaer to give him a run-out once again and for Sancho to finally make an impression on United fans who have been waiting for him to truly arrive at the club.
Solskjaer has got decisions to make, because the squad he has spent the best part of three years building isn’t best suited to this formation.
But in a period where he is desperate for results to save his job, it may be a necessity. With that said, he now needs to find the balance between results and performances, so a few alterations wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s been a long time coming, but Jadon Sancho is finally a Manchester United player.
The 21-year-old England international has been chased by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club for the best part of two years but a £73million deal was finally agreed last month and is now complete after Euro 2020 came to an end.
Now that he is part of the squad, Solskjaer must decide on how best to use him going forward in the long-term but also short-term as he comes to terms with the fall-out of Euro 2020 and Copa America as well as other fitness and form issues in his squad for the start of the season.
How should United start the season in attack? How should it look once everyone is fit and firing? Here’s how I see it…
LEFT WING STARTER – Marcus Rashford Depth: Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, Dan James
If anyone has made a position their own in the Manchester United attack it is the number 10, Mr. Rashford.
Pace, direct running, a killer final pass and a goal threat, Rashford has mastered the out-to-in run and is often United’s biggest threat in attacking situations. Injuries mean that he could miss the start of the season, but that wouldn’t be the biggest issue in the world.
Anthony Martial is fit again and capable of playing there, while Sancho is arguably just as good on the left as he is on the right while Solskjaer is still a fan of Dan James who can fill in if needs be too.
RIGHT WING STARTER – Jadon Sancho Depth: Mason Greenwood, Amad, Juan Mata
I think it’s fair to say that Sancho has been signed to walk straight into the team on the right wing and anything else would be seen as a surprise.
It’s been a problem position for several years for Manchester United and over the last two seasons Solskjaer has been using Mason Greenwood in that position for his ambi-pedal abilities and goalscoring threat, but he’s a striker first and foremost.
The signing of Amad added depth but he was eased into the first-team picture last season, but some added minutes could be thrown his way this season in certain games to rotate the squad and even just add competition and help develop him more.
Juan Mata’s new deal means another option too, but the young bucks should certainly be ahead of him in the pecking order.
NUMBER 10 STARTER – Bruno Fernandes Depth: Donny Van de Beek, Juan Mata, Hannibal Mejbri
Bruno Fernandes is the second name on the team sheet for Solskjaer after Harry Maguire in defence and that will not change this season barring something crazy.
The real question about this position is who should play when he doesn’t and Solskjaer has got options, whether he opts to use them or not. Donny Van de Beek is capable of playing as a ten, although it’s a different type of way to play the role while Mata arguably made his name in the position when he was younger.
There is also the possibility of Hannibal earning some first-team minutes after being promoted to the senior team at the end of last season and if he can impress during pre-season then he could earn himself some minutes during the season too.
STRIKER STARTER – Mason Greenwood Depth: Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford
The new one-year contract for Edinson Cavani would suggest that he will be the first-choice striker going into the new season, but if there’s ever the time to try something new it is now with Greenwood as the man.
The youngster has proven that he has the ability to score goals at the highest level despite his age and his preferred position is through the middle. He holds the ball up well, can drift wide and has the pace to run in behind plus finishes with both feet.
Cavani showed last season that he can affect games coming off the bench if necessary and despite Martial’s popularity with fans and the squad, his form last season was bad enough that he now must earn his place back through performances.
England face a crunch Euro 2020 final group game against Czech Republic tonight, and only a win will see them qualify as group winners.
A win over Croatia was followed up with a draw against Scotland, meaning that they have four points from two games just like the Czech’s. But with the visitors on Tuesday night having a better goal difference following their 2-0 win over the Scots, a draw would see them win the group ahead of England.
Gareth Southgate will be without Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell for the game after they were forced to self-isolate following close contact with Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for COVID-19 after the England-Scotland game on Friday night.
So who should start the game that England must win to get their tournament really kick-started? This would be my team:
Jordan Pickford (GK)
England’s best available goalkeeper so he should start. Yet to really be tested during the tournament but has kept two clean sheets and his passing and claiming of crosses has been good, so no need to change anything there.
Kyle Walker (RB)
Walker was hot and cold against Croatia but without him against Scotland, England looked stale. His pace is a powerful tool in both directions while his ability on the ball is more than adequate to help build from the back, he’s England best option in the position and should start.
John Stones (CB)
The Manchester City centre-back came closest to breaking the deadlock against Scotland when he headed against the post. That aerial ability has been on show throughout the tournament but also his one-on-one defensive qualities and passing have continued to shine through and he should keep his place.
Harry Maguire (CB)
Manchester United’s captain has yet to kick a ball at this tournament so far and England haven’t conceded a goal yet, but he should come into the side for this one. Defensively he is excellent aerially and as a leader, while also being far better on the ball than Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady. Must start.
Luke Shaw (LB)
Shaw was called into the side for the Scotland game but struggled to make an impact as he wasn’t really allowed to push on too much. That must change in this game if England are to have success and he is the best attacking left-back in the squad. With Chilwell out due to COVID protocols, he must start.
Declan Rice (CM)
Rice is a solid defensive outlet when it comes his midfield role but progressing the ball against a low block defence is not his strongest attribute. With that said, England can’t afford to lose the game and he is comfortably the best defensive midfielder in the squad. He should be in there for added protection but his role should be simple – win the ball back and give it to the more talented players.
Jude Bellingham (CM)
The last thing England need to do in this game is play with two holding midfielders, so it’s the perfect chance for young Bellingham to make his mark on the tournament. More than comfortable in every role as a central midfielder, the 18-year-old would offer terrific balance and some added attacking quality in the final third where needed.
Jadon Sancho (RW)
He’s yet to get his boots dirty in this tournament but Sancho is more than deserving of some action in this tournament now. England have really struggled creatively so far and only Harry Kane had more goal involvements during the last campaign. Sancho has pace, skill, great combination play with passing and has a killer pass and eye for goal so would be the perfect man to bring in to a struggling side.
Jack Grealish (CAM)
It was a surprise that he didn’t start against Croatia and during the 27 minutes he got against Scotland he wasn’t able to do much, but Grealish deserves the nod here. He has the flair and playing style perfectly suited to international football and has shown time and again in an England shirt that he can perform. With Mount unavailable, he’s the obvious choice to step in to the number ten position.
Marcus Rashford (LW)
Raheem Sterling remains the only man to score for England so far in this tournament but his performances have been far from excellent. Marcus Rashford was second in the entire England squad for goal contributions last season (tied with Sancho) and has come on in both games but struggled to get into them. A start here would give him that chance, with his eye for goal and direct style precisely what England have been lacking.
Harry Kane (ST)
As if it was ever in doubt, Southgate has already confirmed that his captain and star striker will start this game. The Tottenham man is yet to even have a shot on target in the tournament but he’s always been a man for the big occasion and there is no bigger stage than now, so expect him to finally make his arrival with a goal in this one.
It’s finally here, England’s opening game of Euro 2020 takes place in a little over 48 hours.
After the 2018 World Cup run that saw Gareth Southgate’s side make it all the way to the semi-finals, there is revenge on the mind as they take on Croatia once again at Wembley on Sunday in the opening game of Group D.
With Harry Maguire ruled out through injury, the manager has a decision to make based on fitness and system of who will start the important fixture with a good start paramount to any success they chase.
With that said, lets take a look at the starting lineup that should be fielded by Southgate and England against Croatia.
Jordan Pickford (GK)
The goalkeeper position seemed to really be up for grabs at the start of the season, with Pickford’s place in jeopardy because of bad form.
But Nick Pope’s injury ruled him out of the tournament and with Dean Henderson not nailing down a number one spot with Manchester United and Sam Johnstone getting relegated, Southgate will keep the faith with the Everton stopper.
Kyle Walker (RCB)
No Maguire means England are likely to revert to their three/five at the back system that got them so far in Russia.
That means a return to centre-back for Manchester City’s first-choice right-back, who provided great cover and ability on the ball from the right side of the three during that tournament. While his pace would be missed out wide, England full-back options are so strong that the decision won’t be nearly as thought about as it was back then.
John Stones (LCB)
The Man City man enjoyed the best season of his career this past year, proving essential to the winning mahcine in central defence.
While he’s far more comfortable on the right hand side, he’s good in one-on-one duels and is good with the ball with both feet. He’s a far better defender and footballer than Tyrone Mings so despite the Villa man being a left-footer, Stones gets the nod on this side for me.
Conor Coady (CB)
The central position would have been Maguire’s almost certainly, but without him it should go to the Wolves captain.
I personally didn’t have Coady in my squad because I think there are better English defenders than him available, but his experience playing in the centre of a back-three for Wolves could be essential here. He’s comfortable on the ball playing out from the back, but also happy to throw his body on the line and is a natural leader. He gets the nod for me.
Reece James (RWB)
Fresh off winning the UEFA Champions League in this position, James has to get the nod here.
A supreme athlete, James is strong as a bull and quick enough to completely nullify Raheem Sterling during the final last month. He’s great defensively when in one-on-one situations and is good in the air, plus his composure on the ball has seen him play in central midfield in the past.
He has a great delivery too which will only help Harry Kane in attack, so it’s position to lose.
Declan Rice (CM)
A stellar campaign for West Ham United saw Rice just miss out on Champions League football with his club, but he has earned plenty of praise from the big boys in the country.
A solid defensive midfielder, Rice is great defensively. He reads the game very well, intercepts attacks and is a great tackler while also being able to carry the ball forward in a counter attack if necessary. With that said, his passing through the lines is a bit iffy and he’ll need someone more attack minded next to him but he deserves his starting spot.
Mason Mount (CM)
Chelsea’s player of the year and the man who provided the match-winning assist in the Champions League final, Mount has earned his place in the England side this summer.
High energy, a great presser, comfortable on the ball in tight spaces and creative Mount is a perfect partner in central midfield alongside his childhood best friend Rice. While not a natural central midfielder in a two he has all the attributes to play the role and adds a bit more of an attacking intent to the lineup in a defensive formation.
Luke Shaw (LWB)
England’s best left-back this season by a distance, Shaw has fought his way back in from the wilderness to be his nation’s first-choice. Despite Ben Chilwell’s performances helping Chelsea’s European successes, Shaw should start.
He was brilliant from about November onwards and had a career-best season in terms of goals and assists, registering more assists than any other defender in the Premier League in 2021. He has great pace, power, is a solid passer of the ball and is high on confidence and would be my pick to start.
Jack Grealish (CAM)
The man of the year, the people’s champion. Jack Grealish HAS to start for England this summer.
He had a true breakout season in the Premier League with Aston Villa this year and was in the conversation for player of the year before a shin injury saw him miss 12 games of the season at a crucial period.
Since returning from injury though he has shone in both warm-up games for England with his ball carrying ability, his passing and his creativity and it would be a crime if he wasn’t rewarded with a starting place for the tournament opener.
Marcus Rashford (CAM)
Maybe a controversial pick, but Rashford has to start for me. 22 goals and 15 assists for Manchester United this season is a remarkable output for a 23-year-old attacker and he has proven he really is one of the best attackers in the league.
With the formation selected, England will have plenty of width from their wing-backs and with Grealish dropping deep to collect the ball and create, Rashford’s pace and directness will be key for England to create any openings.
He’s a good finisher and his one-on-one abilities against defenders will have Croatia worried, so he should get the nod as one of the two behind Harry Kane.
Harry Kane (ST)
The captain and the best player the country has, if one position in the team is a lock it’s Kane’s.
The Spurs man is coming off the best season of his career domestically with his club, where he won the golden boot and the playmaker award for most goals and assists in the Premier League. He has a propensity to drop deep which would allow him to create and link with other attacking players but also create space for Rashford to run in behind too. He starts so long as he’s even half fit.
Today is the day that Gareth Southgate makes half the nation absolutely ecstatic and the other half furious as he names his England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
UEFA agreed to allow an extra three places in the squad for managers to add following a full campaign of a hectic schedule owing to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months or so.
That should make it a little bit easier to select a squad but there will still be some big names who miss out. While Southgate will name a provisional squad today, I wanted to see just how difficult it is to do and how different people will react, so this is my 26-man England squad for Euro 2020.
Jordan Pickford: The Everton stopper’s place as number one for the national team had come under doubt this season but Southgate has stuck by him for the most part and he will 100% be in the squad.
Dean Henderson: He’s always had great ability and has come through the youth ranks with England. Now as Manchester United’s number one, he has earned his place in the senior England team too.
Sam Johnstone: The third spot was sure to be Nick Pope’s, but the Burnley keeper needs knee surgery and is almost certain to be ruled out of the tournament. That means West Brom keeper Johnstone will get the chance to be part of the squad as the third choice.
Kyle Walker: Quite comfortably the best performing English right-back this season, Walker won the Premier League and is in the Champions League with Manchester City and deserves his spot. He also offers some flexibility if needed, having played as a centre-back at the 2018 World Cup too.
Reece James: A young right-back, James’ season started impeccably and while he didn’t keep that level throughout the season he wasn’t bad. Good going forward and excellent in a one-on-one situation with a great delivery, he deserves a chance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: The fact his spot in the squad is so in question is bonkers to me. He had a really tough first half of the season and was rightly left out of the last England squad, but since then he has been back to his brilliant best. He’s improved defensively and has an X-factor when going forward that should make him a shoe-in.
Ben Chilwell: Southgate’s first choice left-back for the most part has had a good debut campaign with Chelsea this season and could top it off by winning the Champions League. He’s decent at both ends of the pitch and this is one of the positions where the choices are pretty clear.
Luke Shaw: Quite comfortably the best left-back in the country this season, Shaw has seen an incredible resurgence in his career this season. He’s been fantastic going forward, with a career high of assists this season but also solid defensively and can even fill in as a third centre-back in a back three too so he’s in.
Harry Maguire: England’s best centre-back and a leader at the back, he’s had a very good season for Manchester United. Aerially he is dominant and while he has got a lack of pace, he knows how to play without it for the most part and shines for Southgate so will start so long as he recovers from his ankle injury.
John Stones:Another player who has seen a huge resurgence in their career this season, Man City have a lot to thank Stones for. While Ruben Dias picked up much of the plaudits (and rightly so), Stones shone next to him and his passing ability from the back should see him as a starter alongside Maguire with fitness permitting.
Ezri Konsa: While I don’t expect him to go, Konsa is more than deserving of a spot in the squad after the season he has had. Alongside Tyrone Mings, he has shown a fantastic ability in all aspects of defending as well as playing out from the back and in my eyes has outshone his centre-back partner. He has great pace to cover round and is good on the ball to build from the back too, meaning he’d fit into the squad brilliantly.
Fikayo Tomori: For sure a wildcard pick, but Tomori’s form since his January loan move to AC Milan can’t be ignored. He was brilliant in Serie A and the Europa League and caught the eye of everyone who paid any sort of attention. That means if Southgate was doing his job properly he’d have spotted him too, and he deserves an inclusion based on form and ability over Wolves captain Conor Coady.
Jordan Henderson: Arguably the biggest character in the camp, Henderson is an automatic pick if he’s fit. Great energy, leadership, solid defensively and a decent passing range too, he starts never mind gets included in the squad.
Declan Rice: Potentially the most important piece of the jigsaw in Southgate’s midfield, the West Ham man’s defensive qualities are something that only he brings to the squad. A fantastic tackler with great awareness, he will be key if England get into the latter stages to take on the better teams.
Jude Bellingham: Not many people will have had him down as getting into this squad at the start of the season, but the 17-year-old has been sensational for Borussia Dortmund and earned himself senior minutes earlier in this campaign. He has the ability to fulfil every midfield role and that fearlessness he brings to his game could be huge.
Kalvin Phillips: A fantastic ball playing defensive midfielder, Phillips has been a big part of Southgate’s plans in squads over the last year and he deserves his place in the side as the insurance policy in the centre.
Mason Mount: A real breakthrough campaign this season for Mount, who made himself indispensable for Chelsea and forced his way into the England setup too. Whether it be deeper or slightly more advanced, Mount is almost certain to start and will be included.
Bukayo Saka: The Arsenal man was one of very few bright sparks in a shocking season for the Gunners and his versatility could be absolutely vital for the squad. Able to play as a full-back, wing-back, winger or even central midfielder, he should find that gets him into the squad above anything else.
Jack Grealish: One of the stand-out performers in the Premier League this season prior to his shin injury, Grealish more than deserves his place in the squad. Brilliant ball retention and manipulation, as well as a ball carrier, eye for a pass and top performances for Villa, he has to be in.
Jadon Sancho: Strangely enough there are squads that don’t have Sancho involved and that just makes zero sense to me. A dazzling winger with pace, agility, a brilliant change of direction, goals and assists, he’s performed brilliantly for Dortmund after a slow start and deserves his spot.
Raheem Sterling: After Harry Kane, Sterling is probably the first attacker on the squad list for Southgate and he’s one of them for me too. While his season for Man City was somewhat underwhelming in comparison to previous campaigns, he has goals, assists and brilliant wing play and can play on either side. His quality is high and he’s a must-pick.
Marcus Rashford: The best season of his club career was slowed somewhat by injuries towards the end, but 20+ goals and 15+ assists in all competitions make him a sure-fire pick. He has that X-factor in one on one situations, has brilliant pace and skill, can play across the entire front three and is a good impact sub if he doesn’t start too.
Harry Kane: Well, duh. England’s best player by a distance, Kane is in the squad and I reckon he’ll play every minute of the tournament too.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Since Kane will likely play in every game and play most minutes, the secondary striker role is one that likely won’t be used much. Despite that, you need someone who is a presence on the pitch if they are needed and can score a variety of different goals, so the Everton man is the best pick.
Mason Greenwood: A wildcard pick again, but it’s rare that as a manager you have so much quality to choose from and have to leave someone out. But Greenwood’s quality with both feet, whether through the middle or out wide means he absolutely has to be in. There’s nobody I’d rather a chance fell to when I needed a goal outside of Kane and that’s enough to sway me.
Two absolute giants of the game meet in a competition not befitting of their stature as Manchester United and AC Milan clash in the last 16 of the Europa League.
The Red Devils crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages after defeats in the final two group games against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, before cruising through the round of 32 against Real Sociedad with a 4-0 away win in the first leg. A much relaxed second leg ended goalless as United controlled the tie from the off.
Milan on the other side came through the group stages as group winners, topping the table ahead of Lille, Celtic and Sparta Prague. They were paired up with Red Star Belgrade in the next round where they were held to draws home and away, but the three away goals they scored in comparison to Red Star’s were enough to see them progress.
Manchester United come into the tie in far from the greatest form, but having most recently snapped their rivals Man City’s 21-game winning streak with a 2-0 win at the Etihad. They’ve looked impeccable in the Europa League and their squad is more than strong enough to win the entire competition.
AC Milan on the other hand had started the season incredibly brightly domestically, but have recently fallen off and now find themselves in second place six points behind local rivals Inter in the title race. They’ve won just two of their last seven games in all competitions conceding ten goals and keeping just one clean sheet in that time.
It’s a welcomed return to the upper echelons of the table for the Milan side, who’ve seen their fortunes turned since the appointment of Stefano Pioli last season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has continued to be excellent since returning, although he’s likely to miss the games against his former side with injury while the likes of Rafael Leao, Franck Kessie, Brahim Diaz and Theo Hernandez have all performed exceedingly well.
Both sides have used somewhat rotated sides in the competition so far, and depth is a strength that they both have but it’s hard to look at both squads and not think that United have the edge in this tie.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has opted for a somewhat stronger team for the the two games so far and it’s likely he’ll do something similar here. Marcus Rashford is likely to miss the first leg with an ankle problem, which means Bruno Fernandes is likely to carry the load for the side while he’s injured. That’s not ideal since United would likely rather rest him if they could, but he could hold the key to their progression.
Milan are a good pressing side that tend to take the majority of chances they create, while defensively they’re solid in the air and and very good at nicking the ball in the midfield. They are however prone to individual errors and their shape isn’t the most impressive which could allow a United side in the mood to create.
When the draw was made many people saw United crashing out of the competition, but generally I think people are more fearing of the name of the club rather than the actual team on the pitch.
At their best, Manchester United are the better team and over two legs the expectation is that they should be able to get the win and progress into the quarter-finals as the favourites to win the entire competition.
It’s not just the Champions League that makes it’s return this week, the baby brother is back in town too as the Europa League comes back too with the round of 32, including the Champions League drop outs.
One of those drop outs are Manchester United, who fell out of the premier competition following defeats in their final two group stage games to Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig. They fall into the Europa League where they’ll take on Spain’s Real Sociedad, who progressed into this round after coming second behind Napoli in the group stages.
Manchester United currently sit in second place in the Premier League, seven points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more than their local rivals and level on points with Leicester in third. They’ve scored the most goals in the league this season so far, aided by a 9-0 win over Southampton recently, but have conceded more goals than eight of the other nine teams in the top half.
Sociedad currently sit fifth in the La Liga table, behind the big three and Sevilla having won ten of their 23 games so far this season domestically. Despite an abundance of attacking talent, their goals haven’t flowed massively. They’ve scored 46 goals in 32 games in all competitions but managed only five in their six games in this competition earlier this season.
Their star winger Mikel Oyarzabal has been in tremendous form this season, scoring a team high ten goals so far including five in his last six games. David Silva joined the team in the summer and has taken to the league like a duck to water, as expected, while young attackers Alexander Isak and Adnan Januzaj have continued to shine also.
United will however take encouragement from the fact that Sociedad have only managed to keep six clean sheets in their last 20 games in all competitions, while they themselves have been able to score in 17 of their last 20 fixtures.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be tempted to rest key players in his squad with a race for top four looking likely now, but he also knows that a trophy would help to justify his position in the role of manager also. Winning the competition is also an extra way to get into the Champions League next season should their domestic form continue to struggle after just two wins from their last seven games in the league.
Even with a rotated squad though, United’s team is strong enough to compete into the latter rounds in this competition. The likes of Anthony Martial, Donny Van de Beek, Mason Greenwood, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly are still likely to feature regularly and they would all start regularly for the Sociedad team.
Unless United decide that their interest in this competition is minimal, they should have too much for Sociedad and while the Spaniards will give a good account of themselves, I expect the Reds to qualify with minimal complications.
Real Sociedad 0-1 Manchester United Manchester United 2-1 Real Sociedad (Manchester United progress 3-1 on aggregate)
Just a week after holding the champions to a draw at Anfield, Manchester United went toe to toe with Liverpool and came out on top with a 3-2 win in the FA Cup.
The Red Devils came from behind after Mohamed Salah opened the scoring thanks to goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to take the lead. Salah equalised for Jurgen Klopp’s side before substitute Bruno Fernandes smashed a free-kick in late on to seal progression for United into the next round.
It was a change of tact and intention from Solskjaer and one that worked in their favour, as they showed they can attack the top teams and do damage.
United’s big game form this season has been questionable, having failed to beat any of the other members of the ‘big six’ and having scored just one goal in games against them before this game.
Solskjaer had often opted for a pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred in midfield previously, looking to play on the counter attack while ensuring they didn’t lose with extra defensive protection. However against Liverpool, McTominay was paired with Paul Pogba and Solskjaer played with three attacking players behind the striker. He was going for it.
It was a pretty good display overall too, with many players putting in top performances all over the pitch.
In the past with United’s setup, when Salah opened the scoring the Reds would have been in trouble. They wouldn’t have had much creativity and would have been occupying ten yards deeper than normal. But with this front-foot approach, United were always in the game.
A cup tie is different to a league game and if the mentality is carried into games in the future it will be a bigger sign that the mentality has shifted. But the performance was encouraging enough that it should definitely be considered for the upcoming fixtures.
The counter attack was still a threat, as seen with Greenwood and Rashford’s goals, but they created enough openings from keeping possession in the middle third and shifting side to side, as well as overlapping full-backs.
Solskjaer has got his side attacking well, defending well and competing in games against the big sides as well as sitting at the top of the Premier League. The only thing missing now, is a trophy.