Marouane Fellaini insists Manchester United will not take Midtjylland lightly in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 clash on Thursday.
Louis van Gaal’s side were drawn against the Danish title-holders after dropping out of the Champions League group stage in December, with defeat to Wolfsburg on matchday six ending their involvement in Europe’s top competition.
The draw was considered by many to be kind on the 20-time English champions, with Midtjylland having conceded more goals (12) than any other side to make it through the Europa League groups – something they have done for the first time in their history this season.
According to Fellaini, United are fully prepared for a difficult game in Herning as they look to become the fifth team to win both of Europe’s top two club competitions as well as the UEFA Super Cup and the defunct Cup Winners’ Cup after Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Chelsea.
“They will be very aggressive as they want to win and show that they are a good team, but we are strong too
and have great players,” Fellaini told MUTV.
“We have the capacity to win and we want to win the game, even though it will be difficult. We have to be motivated because we know they will be.
“Make no mistake, we’ll be going into Thursday’s game aiming to win, as we want to do well in the competition.”
United head into the game off the back of a damaging 2-1 defeat to Sunderland, which has heaped further pressure on manager Van Gaal, yet Midtjylland’s form prior to their mid-season break also left much to be desired.
They finished 2015 with just one win in 10 matches in all competitions and are without a win in their last four European games, while their 4-2 victory over Horsens last Saturday was their only victory in four friendly outings since January 2.
Head coach Jess Thorup is refusing to read too deeply into United’s inconsistent performances and maintains his own side – who knocked out Southampton in the qualifying rounds – can spring a major shock.
“You have to be careful reading into the opposition’s results,” he told Ekstra Bladet. “I’ve read that Van Gaal will now focus on the Europa League to get a ticket to the Champions League, so they’re not coming to Herning to slip out of the tournament.
“We have a chance and we are ready to play, although we are still underdogs.”
United’s injury woes show little sign of abating, with Matteo Darmian the latest casualty after dislocating his shoulder in that defeat to Sunderland and Bastian Schweinsteiger is unlikely to return for this one after being given time off by Van Gaal.
Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Antonio Valencia (ankle), Ashley Young (groin) and Luke Shaw (leg) are still sidelined, while Phil Jones, Adnan Januzaj and Guillermo Varela are struggling with minor knocks sustained in action for the Under-21 side.
Johan Dahlin (knee) is out and Petter Andersson (knee) is a doubt for Midtjylland in their first competitive meeting with United.
Key Opta Stats:
– Midtjylland have played English opposition twice before in Europe, both in qualifiers. They knocked out Southampton to make the competition proper this season, but were dumped out of UEFA Cup qualifying by Man City in 2008-09.
– Manchester United have won four of their previous six matches against Danish opposition (D1 L1).
– The Red Devils’ three previous trips to Denmark have all been in the Champions League. They beat Brondby 6-2 on their way to lifting the European Cup in 1998/99, lost 1-0 to FC Copenhagen in 2006/07 and defeated Aalborg in 3-0 in their most recent visit.
– United have kept two clean sheets in their last 13 away games in Europe, excluding qualifiers.
– Wayne Rooney scored three times in Manchester United’s last Europa League games against Athletic Bilbao in 2012, but it was not enough to get them through the tie.
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