By John Ryan
- De Gea, Rooney and young all trained ahead of first-leg
- Jones, Smalling and Mata all still unavailable
Sixty years ago Manchester United beat Anderlecht in their first European tie at Old Trafford. Matt Busby’s men demolished their Belgian opposition and on Thursday night Jose Mourinho would welcome the same result.
In what has been a bumpy season for the Portuguese, this game now takes on huge significance as the race for fourth in the Premiership is anything but a foregone conclusion.
David De Gea, Wayne Rooney and Ashley young have all trained with the rest of the squad ahead of this game and all three should be available after injury.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are still injured however Mourinho should be able to unleash a first eleven well equipped to win this game.
Anderlecht in their domestic league have reached the title play off stage and sit on top of the table.
Polish International Lukasz Teodorczyk has found the net twenty times this season while in midfield Youri Tielemans and Sofiane Hanni have weighed in with twenty six goals between them.
In the Europa League to date, Anderlecht impressively saw off Slavia Prague in the qualifying round, emerged along with Saint Etienne from a reasonably weak group but then had impressive knockout wins over Zenit St. Petersburg and Apoel Nicosia.
With twenty seven goals scored in twelve games in this competition so far, Anderlecht will not be the pushover that many expect them to be.
Europa League Is Top Of Priorities
United’s form in this tournament has not been as impressive.
The Europa League seemed a distraction to the assault on the Premier League but has taken on increased significance as a means of gaining qualification to next season’s Champions League.
With eighteen goals in ten games so far United have a poorer strike rate in this competition than their Belgian opponents so it will be curious to see how Mourinho approaches this one.
Manchester United will be looking to bring at least one away goal back to Old Trafford for the second-leg next week.
Mourinho Knows What It Takes To Win This Competition
Mourinho led Porto to victory in this competition in 2003 so he knows what it takes to win it.
Glasgow Celtic, Porto’s opponents in that final, claimed that their opposition were schooled in every art of winning at all costs.
All parties have moved on since then and while Mourinho is fostering a long term vision on United, some of the guile from his Porto days would be welcome.
United have to take something to Belgium ahead of the second leg. He needs to send out an attacking side who will give Anderlecht a lot to think about.
With that in mind United fans could be forgiven for being excited at the prospect of Rashford and Martial playing either side of Ibrahimovic.
For United’s top goalscorer the prospect of a final place in Stockholm in May will surely add twenty percent to his game and hopefully see him fire in goals.
A Trophy United Have Never Won
European success has always been a huge part of Manchester United’s history.
Matt Busby pioneered European competition when the English football league saw itself and the pinnacle of World Football.
Despite leading the way into Europe, United have undoubtedly underperformed there over the years.
The three European Cups and one Cup Winners Cup to date seems a return less than the amount of talent, time and effort expended to date.
This competition in its various formats is the one that is missing from the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
Having guided his sides to three major European trophies to date, Mourinho is the man to lead United to this title.
He has resorted to public criticism of his players in recent times but notably players like Eric Bailly are backing this approach.
Luke Shaw was the main recipient of the criticism and many fans were disappointed that the manager went public but let’s not forget, his job is to win football matches.
Verdict: United 3-1 Anderlecht