Two wins on the trot but has the season actually turned or is it just individual brilliance powering through this team to victory for now? That’s the question facing Erik ten Hag every time Manchester United take the field now.
Sheffield United fixture was turned into an unnecessarily nervy game as Diogo Dalot’s screamer sent Man United on their way when all their attackers looked bereft of ideas.
Next up is FC Copenhagen in the Champions League and if the Sheffield game was must win in the Premier League, United’s UCL campaign has already reached crisis mode.
A loss to Galatasaray has them staring at the barrel of European elimination altogether and only four wins from four will do now, starting with the Danish club at Old Trafford.
Here’s the match preview and what can be expected from this game:
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester.
When: Tuesday, 24th October, 2023.
Time: 8 PM BST
Referee: Marco Guida.
Assistants: Ciro Carbone and Giorgio Peretti.
VAR: Massimiliano Irrati.
Assistant VAR: Paolo Valeri
Manchester United might finally welcome back a natural left-back with Sergio Reguilon expected to be fit for this game. His fellow left-backs Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia are still more than a week away from returning.
Casemiro will miss the game through injury but he was suspended for this game anyway so that is not likely to be a tactical blow for the manager. In his absence, Sofyan Amrabat was paired with Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay against Sheffield but Christian Eriksen might come in for this game as United will expect to have the majority of possession.
Kobbie Mainoo could make the bench after returning to first-team training. Lisandro Martinez, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Amad are long-term absentees while the deadlock between Jadon Sancho and the manager has still not been resolved.
For Copenhagen, the absence of William Clem will be sorely felt. The 19-year-old started the season brightly and was having a breakout year but a broken foot sustained recently will keep him out till next year.
Nicolai Boilesen is the other absentee and the status of his injury is not perfectly clear at this point. He missed the league game against Vejle BK on the weekend but could return for this one.
United’s game have fallen into a usual pattern. Start slowly, let the opponent grow in confidence, then score with a piece of individual brilliance. Immediately after, concede to leave things level and then labour through the rest of the game bereft of attacking ideas.
Against teams better than them, they’ve got no chance. Against teams weaker than them on paper, they can’t break down deep defences.
Copenhagen will pose that exact challenge. Be it through quick diagonals and switches of play, or through constant off-the-ball motion, United need to figure out a way of scoring a goal that’s not- a) individual brilliance or b) On the counter with space in behind.
The first can’t be relied upon to bail you out every game, and the second won’t happen against deep blocks.
Copenhagen know the template, and teams worse than them have successfully executed this game plan in front of United. If the same happens again here, then a chance of another upset can’t be ruled out.
It feels ridiculous to say that Manchester United are not out-and-out favourites at home against Copenhagen, but that’s the situation they find themselves in right now.
Until they prove otherwise with a concerted attacking display and coherent patterns of play, every United fixture is a potential banana skin.
Fernandes has recently come under the scanner for his performance and rightly so. If the team is not scoring goals, then the creator-in-chief is answerable to a big extent.
However, that’s not why he’s the key player here. In fact, Fernandes looks worse than others when things are not going according to plan because he doesn’t go into hiding and keeps trying to unlock the door.
That’s the same spirit he will have to approach this game with. His high-risk-high-reward style often cedes possession to the opposition with minimal effort from their end, but it is also what’s needed to force the issue sometimes when patterns of play are absent.
Add to that his insane work rate, and it’s clear that if Fernandes misses a game, Man United won’t just miss a midfielder. They’ll miss a midfielder, defender, and forward rolled into one.
The former Southampton winger joined Copenhagen this summer after the Saints’ relegation and has immediately provided thrust and incisiveness to Copenhagen’s left wing.
The fleet-footed attacker will pose a tricky challenge for an overworked Diogo Dalot as his two-footedness means he is as capable of going outside and crossing as he is of cutting inside and launching a shot.
Antony isn’t providing much in attack right now, but his tracking back will be crucial to nullify the threat of the Norwegian winger. Elyounoussi has already opened his account in the Champions League this season and Old Trafford is a familiar ground for him.
The challenge is now on for United that he doesn’t turn Old Trafford from a “familiar ground” to a “memorable ground” for himself.
Man United predicted starting lineup: Onana; Dalot, Maguire, Varane, Reguilon; Amrabat, Mount, Fernandes; Rashford, Antony Hojlund.
Copenhagen predicted starting lineup: Grabara; Ankersen, Vavro, Diks, Melin; Lerager, Falk; Goncalves, Elyounoussi, Claesson; Achouri.