Manchester United will be aiming to take a step towards clinching top spot in Group L of the UEFA Europa League when they take on Astana on Thursday.

The 2019-20 UEFA Europa League resumes this week with Matchday 5 of the group stage. Group L leaders Manchester United will be in action first up on Thursday, when they travel to Nur-Sultan to lock horns with bottom feeders Astana.

Astana were on a roll in domestic football, clinching their sixth Kazakhstan Premier League title in a row earlier this month, beating FC Kairat by a solitary point. However, the Europa League has been a different kettle of fish for the hosts, who have lost each of their four games so far in this season’s edition.

Manchester United, on the other hand, have been on a decent run of form in the Europa League, winning three of their four games so far (D1). Crucially, defence has put up a strong front for the Red Devils, having yet to concede a goal, although consistent goalscoring has been an issue in every game bar their last outing, against Partizan Belgrade.

The reverse fixture was thoroughly dominated by Manchester United, although they only managed to beat Astana 1-0, courtesy Mason Greenwood’s first goal for the club. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Europa League encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Astana

Can Roman Hryhorchuk & co. spring a surprise on Manchester United? (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Can Roman Hryhorchuk & co. spring a surprise on Manchester United? (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Roman Hryhorchuk does not have any fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Manchester United. On Thursday, the Astana boss will be without three first-team players, with Zarko Tomasevic (foot), Luka Simunovic (cruciate ligament rupture) and Firmin Mubele (knee) done for the season.

Hryhorchuk is expected to line his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Nenad Eric manning the goal for Astana. Antonio Rukavina and Dmitri Shomko will be the hosts’ full-back pairing. Yuri Logvinenko will feature as a makeshift centre-back due to the absence of Tomasevic and Simunovic and will partner Yevgeny Postnikov at the heart of the defence.

The midfield double pivot ought to feature Ivan Maevski and Runar Sigurjonsson, with the former providing cover to the backline. Sigurjonsson, on the other hand, will look to transition from defence to attack, linking up with the front men.

Marin Tomasov and Roman Murtazaev will provide the width in the final third against Manchester United. Dorin Rotariu ought to play off the striker, with Sergey Khizhnichenko leading the line for Astana.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Eric; Rukavina, Logvinenko, Postnikov, Shomko; Maevski, Sigurjonsson; Tomasov, Rotariu, Murtazayev; Khizhnichenko

Astana

Manchester United

Like his counterpart, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not been hampered by any new fitness troubles, with six first-team players still either on the sidelines or regaining match fitness. The Manchester United boss, though, is set to rotate heavily against Astana, having taken a youthful squad to Nur-Sultan.

David de Gea was in fine form last time out at Sheffield United, but is one of several regulars who have been rested. Sergio Romero has not been picked in the travelling squad to take on Astana, with Lee Grant set to start in goal for Manchester United.

Like Grant, Ethan Laird and Di’Shon Bernard are also confirmed starters for Manchester United. Laird will start on the right side of the Manchester United defence, with Bernard being Axel Tuanzebe’s central defensive partner. Luke Shaw, fresh after returning from injury, will be the left-back for the visitors.

Another certain starter is Dylan Levitt, who will accompany James Garner in the midfield double pivot. Garner will sit deep in front of the defence, with Levitt looking to pull the strings in the middle of the park.

The front four picks itself, with Mason Greenwood being the central striker, while Jesse Lingard will likely have a free role behind him. Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong, both of whom are in talks with Manchester United over new contracts, and will be eager to make a point against Astana.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Grant; Laird, Tuanzebe, Bernard, Shaw; Garner, Levitt; Gomes, Lingard, Chong; Greenwood

Manchester United

Key Stats

  • Thursday’s fixture will represent the second ever meeting between Manchester United and Astana. The Red Devils were victorious in the first clash between the two sides, winning the contest 1-0.
  • Manchester United are yet to concede a goal in the Europa League this season. No side has ever kept a clean sheet in each of their opening five group stage games in a campaign in the competition.
  • Astana have lost their last six Europa League games by an aggregate score of 1-17. Only Dudelange (15) have conceded more goals in this season’s competition than Astana (14).
  • Manchester United have managed just one shot on target across their two away games in the Europa League this season, with that effort coming from the penalty spot against Partizan Belgrade.
  • Mason Greenwood has been involved in 60 per cent of Manchester United’s five goals in the Europa League this season (two goals, one assist).

Player to Watch

Luke Shaw

Shaw needs to grab his chance. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Shaw needs to grab his chance. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

After showing inconsistency at the start of the season, injury struck. Things have since gone from bad to worse for Shaw, who could soon find himself being third in the pecking order for the left-back slot, with Brandon Williams impressing at every given opportunity.

Reports indicate that Williams has well and truly usurped Shaw, meaning anything but a sub-par performance against Astana will prove to be detrimental to his fortunes. A game that is as key as they come for a player who might just be fighting for his Manchester United future.

Prediction

Astana 1-2 Manchester United

Astana have been one of the whipping boys in the Europa League this season and have only managed to score one goal so far. Only Dudelange have conceded more goals than Astana’s 14 and their troubles might deepen against a youthful Manchester United side.

However, the visitors will be lacking in experience, which presents Astana with their best chance of ending their losing streak. But, the fact that Roman Hryhorchuk’s men are one of the most vulnerable sides in the competition defensively means that a young side that has a point to prove could trouble them as well.

Expect a keenly contested affair that can go either way. Manchester United, though, might just be able to pull off a win here, with Mason Greenwood leading their charge for a fourth win in the Europa League this term.

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