Another off-night for Manchester United in a European home match means that tonight could well be the end of a forgettable European season. That is, if United are unable to overturn a 3-2 deficit at Athletic Bilbao. The mission? Win by two clear goals, win 3-2 to at least force extra time, or win by anything from 4-3 to 10-9 and beyond to win on away goals.
Easy enough, right?
Because of the hole that United have found themselves in coming into tonight, there’s no choice but to go for it. And because keeping Athletic Bilbao scoreless at home for 90 minutes is going to be a difficult task, based on statistical evidence – Athletic have failed to score only twice in 22 home matches this season – and how relentless they were in attack in last week’s match at Old Trafford, three goals should be the aim, at minimum.
The thing about being in this position is that there isn’t much to lose, and as such, we should see United playing loose and free…and therein is why they have every chance to come away with the required result. Caution is part of the reason why United are here tonight. Going away from that approach – not completely, of course, because there’s a reason for having defenders who can defend – will help produce a result that few teams are capable of producing.
It is worth noting that Athletic have clean sheets in their last three home matches, but while United are no strangers to crucial European ties, this is uncharted territory for Athletic. Last week was as well, and we all know how fearlessly they played. But tonight is different, as they’re trying to defend a lead (one that they deserve, it must be said). But what experience they may lack among themselves, they have a manager who’s seen and done a lot, so you have to prepare as if they’ll be every bit as prepared as well.
All of it makes for what should be an exciting match, whether you’re a neutral or a fan of either side. But who will come out celebrating a berth in the Europa League quarterfinals? We’ll find out in a few short hours.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Park, Carrick, Cleverley, Giggs, Young; Rooney.
Subs: Amos, Fabio, Smalling, Pogba, Scholes, Hernandez, Welbeck
Athletic Club: Iraizoz; Iraola, Martinez, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe; Herrera, Iturraspe, De Marcos; Susaeta, Llorente, Muniain
Subs: Raul, San Jose, Ekiza, Perez, Toquero, Lopez, Gomez
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