By Alex Wilson
- Lingard, Januzaj, Fosu-Mensah all illegible
- Valencia returns to bench
- Schweinsteiger back in training, but won’t feature on Thursday
Manchester United meet Liverpool for the first time in a European competition on Thursday night, for the first leg of the Europa League last 16 round.
Louis Van Gaal will be hoping to maintain his 100% win record against Liverpool as United claimed the league double over their rivals both this season and last season.
However, this is the first time both these clubs meet outside the Premier League under their new managers, and the first time in history that they meet on a European stage. For both teams, this competition offers them perhaps their best chance of Champions League football next season, but it’s also very much about the bragging rights.
United fired through comfortably to this stage of the contest after a 5-1 result against Midtjylland in the previous round, but after their upsetting defeat to West Brom in the league on Sunday, United will need to bounce back quickly.
Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian were both welcomed injury comebacks for United at the weekend and are both likely to start again on Thursday night. Although the step-in performances from Fosu-Mensah and Guilliermo Varela have impressed many.
Marcos Rojo now also seems back to full fitness after being eased back from recovery over the last few games and is another likely start at left back.
Van Gaal opted to start the in-form Memphis on the bench against West Brom to make room for fellow young talent Marcus Rashford. However, with Jesse Lingard suspended for the first leg, Memphis is likely to start on Thursday.
Van Gaal announced that Antonio Valencia will be on the bench for the first time in months for United. Schweinstager, despite returning to training, will not feature.
Juan Mata can start the game, his domestic ban will be served during United’s FA Cup game against West Ham on Sunday. Adnan Januzaj and Fosuh-Mensah are both ineligible to play.
Smalling, Darmian and Rojo have returned from injuries in recent games and we believe that Van Gaal will opt for the same back four as featured against West Ham.
Ahead of that we believe that Schneiderlin will return in place Carrick and partner Herrera in the midfield two. Mata will feature in this game despite his sending-off against West Brom at the weekend.
Ahead of Mata, we believe that Memphis will return to the starting line-up in place of the suspended Lingard and we will see a front three of Martial, Rashford and Memphis.
Liverpool will be on a high after their late win over Palace on Sunday, despite one of their goals being gifted to them and the other a controversial winning penalty.
They are now only 3 points behind United in the league, and still in the race for top four. The Klopp effect has had mixed results for Liverpool, but overall they do seem a more confident and pressing side under the German.
Star-striker Daniel Sturridge was rested in their last game and is likely to start against United, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind will need to be on top form to keep the likes of Sturridge and Firmino quiet.
Despite Benteke vowing to fight for his place in the team, he has been a stranger to Liverpool’s starting 11 this season. Sturridge, Firmino and Origi are likely to be the attacking options for United’s opponents.
First team regular Lucas will miss both legs of this competition as he is out with a thigh injury.
This is a huge game for both teams, and one in which United will need to be at their best to win.