Manchester United are about to play their Europa League quarter-final first-leg against Granada.
Having conquered major opponents Real Sociedad 4-0 in the round-of-32 and AC Milan 2-1 in the round-of-16, United will be wary of having to navigate a less blockbuster tie against a plucky but impressive opponent. Granada got out of their group ahead of PAOK and eliminated Napoli in the round-of-32.
We’ve come up with five predictions for the first-leg in Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes.
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1. Predicted Granada XI
Granada aren’t packing anything like the talent Manchester United possess but they are a well-organised outfit under Diego Martinez. They will set out in a rough 4-2-3-1 with Domingos Duarte and German Sanchez anchoring defence while Victor Diaz fills in at left-back.
Martinez could be without three of his senior full-backs in Carlos Neva, Dimitri Foulquier and Quini, with the latter ineligible, which could see Real Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo shoehorned on the right, a role he played in the previous round against Molde.
Ex-Lyon man Maxime Gonalons anchors the midfield with Angel Montoro, freeing up the brilliant Yangel Herrera to work his magic. United will need to keep an eye on the brilliant Venezuelan who is Granada’s top scorer in the Europa League, netting five times this season (three times during qualification to get Granada into the groups).
Out wide, Chelsea loanee Kenedy and Venezuelan Darwin Machis will provide the pace and penetration, with Antonio Puertas likely to come off the bench to give them a jolt in the second half. Roberto Soldado will lead the line but keep an eye out for 38-year-old Jorge Molina coming off the bench. He scored in the last round against Molde, could he do it again?
2. Predicted Manchester United XI
United’s team mostly picks itself. Dean Henderson has been fantastic in goal and after a well-won clean sheet in Milan, should retain his spot. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are the bedrock of the back four, with Victor Lindelof retaining his place chiefly due to Eric Bailly’s Covid-enforced absence.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown a tendency to rotate left-backs so you can expect Alex Telles to get the start here with Luke Shaw getting a rest. With an eye on their Premier League fixtures, expect Solskjaer to reshuffle in midfield, too, with Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic forming a very large barrier to block Herrera from doing his thing.
Ahead of them is star man Bruno Fernandes with Daniel James on the right after his rest at the weekend. Expect to see Mason Greenwood given the chance to lead the line while Solskjaer has already confirmed Marcus Rashford will not play the full 90 minutes but has travelled.
“Marcus is travelling and we have to make a decision tomorrow if he starts or is on the bench. I don’t think he’ll play the 90 minutes,” Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference.
“Marcus is okay-ish. He’s trained this morning. He’s available to be selected, as I said, either as a sub or a starter. Juan [Mata] is back training as is Alex [Telles], so we’re looking stronger definitely. We didn’t lose anyone last weekend against Brighton.”
Solskjaer may not want to risk aggravating Rashford’s ankle complaint, so Paul Pogba could well be thrust into that wing role he played so well in Milan.
3. ‘Roberto Goldado’
Roberto Soldado will always give you 100% effort. The Spanish striker is a relentless workhorse who will press and harry, and make dangerous runs into space. However, in terms of actually delivering the premium currency all strikers are judged on, goals, Soldado has two modes: ‘Goldado’ and ‘Loldado’.
When he’s in ‘Loldado’ mode, nothing he does works. His shots are scuffed, mistimed or wayward and he carries nothing like the threat he usually does. He spent pretty much all his time at Spurs in ‘Loldado’ mode.
However, when he’s in ‘Goldado’ mode then he is a fearsome beast who is absolutely lethal. He can strike superbly off either foot and looks capable of tearing through any opponent. He unleashed ‘Goldado’ on Barcelona in the Copa del Rey and Molde in the Europa League, and you can expect to see him again vs. Manchester United, particularly as the Red Devils’ centre-backs are vulnerable to pace and smart runs.
4. Bruno to get back among the goals
Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United’s superhero, obviously. Since his arrival, United have gone from an upper-mid-table side with giant-killing potential into one of the four best sides in the country (in terms of performances, they’ve been third-best behind Liverpool and City since his arrival) and so much of that rests on his shoulders thanks to his tremendous goal and assist output.
However, Bruno has scored just one goal since the start of March, a penalty against Manchester City, and while his playmaking has remained quality, his goalscoring touch appears to have deserted him.
This is obviously the result of fatigue due to having to play every single minute (United really do rely on him to carry the side in attack) but nevertheless, he looked sluggish over both legs against Milan.
However, against Granada, you can expect to see him get back among the goals. He’s scored against both of the Spanish sides he’s faced in United colours so far (Sevilla in last year’s Europa League semi-final and Real Sociedad earlier this season) and Granada will be the third to fall before him. Whether he scores from open play or not remains to be seen, but he will score.
5. United’s Road Warriors to win again
Manchester United haven’t lost a single away game in either the Premier League or Europa League this season. Every other time they’ve gone on the road, they have picked up at least a point. In their two Europa League games in tricky away grounds like Anoeta and San Siro, they have scored a combined five times and conceded zero.
No Man Utd player had more shots (3) or created more chances (2) vs. Milan than Paul Pogba.
The match-winner only came on at half-time. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/wWkRSwHJKG
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 18, 2021
Simply put: they know how to get it done on the road. And Granada should be no different as United find a way to pick their opponent apart. With Pogba likely to come into the side for Rashford, they should have a greater deal of control in the middle of the field without losing the explosive ability to break forward on the counter.
Then, with Fernandes and Greenwood in attack, the potential for goals is off the charts. And woe betides Granada if they focus on these stars and leave Dan James unmarked. The Welshman may not have the finesse of his teammates but he is staggeringly fast and has shown himself a more than capable match-winning presence.
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