Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 19/20
Manchester United are one of the biggest favourites to win the UEFA Europa League this season. Led by Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, The Red Devils are riding a 21-game undefeated streak across all competitions, and even though their Premier League has not happened as expected, they have enough pedigree to become difference makers in Europe.
However, they will have to go through a steep road if they want to reach the semifinals as they will take on Anderlecht. One of the biggest teams in Belgium, Anderlecht does not have United’s history at the continental level, but there’s no question the English side needs to take this matchup seriously to avoid a potential upset. The first leg will be played this Thursday at Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.
Anderlecht have enjoyed a great season thus far, sitting atop the Belgian Jupiler League standings and reaching the Europa League quarterfinals thanks to an impressive campaign. They defeated APOEL and Zenit in the past two rounds. And they have enough talent to compete with any of the remaining sides in the competition.
The Belgian powerhouse will have almost the entire squad available for this contest. Talented playmaker Andy Najar will miss the game with a thigh injury, though. Polish forward Lukasz Teodorczyk is doubtful, and he would be a big blow for Anderlecht if he’s out. The 25-year-old striker has 20 goals in 30 appearances across all competitions this season.
On the other hand, Manchester United are not where they want to be in the Premier League standings, but they are trending in the right direction. They would clinch another Europa League berth if the season ended today, but they know they can reach a Champions League spot if they win the EL this year. Therefore, it is not crazy to think that Jose Mourinho will urge his players to give their all in Europe as it might be their best chance to reach the UCL for the upcoming campaign.
Unfortunately, Mourinho must deal with a number of absences ahead of this game. Phil Jones, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young won’t play due to injury. Meanwhile, David de Gea is doubtful after he picked up a knock last week. The Spaniard will be a game-time decision ahead of this contest.
Key Factors to Consider
- The second leg will be played at Old Trafford on April 20.
- Manchester United are riding a five-game unbeaten streak (W3 D2)
- The Red Devils have not lost in each of their last six Europa League contests.
- Anderlecht have conceded just once in their last four Europa League games.
- Furthermore, the Belgian side have been nearly unstoppable at home of late, with four wins and a draw over their last five home games.
- The last time both sides met came in the UEFA Champions League during the 2000-01 season. Manchester United won 5-1 at home, but Anderlecht avenged that loss with a 2-1 victory on their own soil.
Anderlecht have been very good at home this season, but Manchester United can’t be taken for granted. The Premier League giants have a deeper squad, more experience, and know how to play decisive games in Europe. Despite the fact that both squads will be shorthanded, Anderlecht will have a tough time trying to overcome the likely absence of Teodorczyk upfront.
It will be a close game, but Manchester United should walk away with the win on this one.
Verdict: Away win
Best Odds: 19/20
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