Manchester United travel to Turkey for the Europa League visit to Fenerbahce in the fourth round fixtures of the group stage. United go into the match on the back of a dramatic 0-0 draw at home to Burnley, in which not one of United’s 37 shots managed to find its way past in form goalkeeper Tom Heaton and into the back of the net. Add to that the denial of a penalty shout and the curious sending off Ander Herrera and no one would blame them for feeling hard done by the result, and that they’d try to make sure that doesn’t happen on Thursday.
If the reverse fixture is anything to go by, Manchester United might not need to worry much about having a barren game in front of goal. At home, they didn’t need much more than half the game to score four past the guest, with only one consolation goal conceded near the end. However, Fenerbahce have had an upturn of form since that match. Having won just two of the eight league games preceding the one at Old Trafford, they have now won both games that follow. With Fenerbahce needing a win to move into a qualification spot and United’s less than stellar form, this could prove to be an interesting match-up.
Here are some key battles to look out for:
Paul Pogba v Mehmet Topal: United’s star performer in the reverse fixture was undoubtedly the Frenchman. Pogba ran the show from the midfield in an impressive display of class, being the driving creative force behind United’s attacks, a stunning performance capped off with two goals. Tasked with handling him will likely be Mehmet Topal, Fenerbahce’s go-to reliable midfielder. Topal has played the full 90 minutes in all but four of Fenerbahce’s league matches, three of which was due to a sending off and the subsequent suspension. If Fenerbahce are looking to stop United’s biggest threat from the last meeting, Topal would be the man they turn to.
Luke Shaw v Jeremain Lens : Shaw didn’t have to face off against Lens in the previous meeting, as the winger had to sit the game out due to injury. But Lens has been superb since signing for Fenerbahce. Since his second game for the club, he has not finished a league game this season without at least one goal or assist, racking up five goals and one assist in just five league appearances, including one goal and one assist in the two games after the United game. Meanwhile, Shaw has not been in the best of form since his return from injury. Though he hasn’t been one of United’s most disappointing performers, him going up against an in form winger with bags of pace now could prove to be a problem.
Marcus Rashford v Sener Ozbayrakli :Another important match-up comes from the opposite end of the same side of the pitch. Ozbayrakli has mostly been backup to Gregory van der Wiel this season, but after the Dutchman fell to injury, Ozbayrakli has had to fill in. The Old Trafford match was his first game replacing van der Wiel since the injury, and if he looked out of sorts then, he got his act together in his next two games, as Fenerbahce kept a clean sheet in both games, with Ozbayrakli getting an assist in Sunday’s 5-0 win at home to Karabukspor. Rashford would need to step up should he be picked at left-wing on Thursday. He hasn’t been particularly effective down the wing, but there’s still a good chance that he’ll be selected there again, and he’d need to perform in both attack and defence to get the better of Ozbayrakli. Of course, a performing Rashford could show why Ozbayrakli was a second choice right back in the first place.
Written by Damilola Okejide