Mourinho’s first European campaign with Manchester United begins in the Europa league this season – with United narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification last season. However, as teams like Liverpool and Tottenham know from last season, the Europa league is no less competitive and there is still an abundance of talent ready to feature in the competition. With the teams drawn for the group stages, we take a look at United’s opponents and the threats within in their teams.
Europa league Group A: Manchester United (ENG), Fenerbahce (TUR), Feyenoord (NED), Zorya Luhansk (UKR).
Though only finishing second in the Super Lig last season, they have a wealth of talent at their disposal. In the forward positions, Fenerbahce certainly do not lack attacking options. With the possibility of reuniting with ex-United player Robin Van Persie, United will have to be wary of his goal scoring capabilities – scoring 22 goals last season – as well as the physical presence of their Brazilian striker Fernandao, who stands tall at a mighty 1.94 metres; taller than any United player. Lastly, ex-West Ham loanee Emmanuel Emenike – who has scored three goals in four games this season – is known for his killer pace and big physique which potentially could cause a lot of problems for United’s full-backs.
Fenerbahce’s right-back Gohkan Gonul has come off from a really solid season. According to whoscored.com he ranked highest in his team per game for tackles (3.7) and interceptions (3.3) while still being able to contribute 1.1 key passes per game. His pace is also another significant factor to his game, and will arguably be able to match some of United’s faster players such as Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial.
At the centre of the park lie another formidable defensive option in the form of 30-year old Mehmet Topal. The Turkish defensive midfielder came second to only Gohkan Gonul in terms of tackles and interceptions last season, and his midfield presence is important to Fenerbahce. He provides that defensive stability in front of the two centre backs and is good at reading the came and breaking opposition attack. He won more than half of his aerial duels last season and his composure while on the ball allows him to eye out his passes. He has been the mainstay of Fenerbahce’s midfield for the past four seasons and does not seem to show signs of slowing this season.
Simon Kjaer is a regular for Fenerbahce’s defence and his recently link to Arsenal just shows his calibre as a centre-back. He was formidable in defence last season, with Fenerbahce conceding only 27 goals in 34 games and with the recent signing of Martin Skrtel, who’s defending capabilities were shown while playing for Liverpool, United’s attackers will certainly have a tough time breaking down the centre-back pairing.
Fenerbahce will certainly prove to be a difficult opponent and if they play a solid defensive game, it will be hard to see how United’s array of attackers could break them down, even with the likes of Ibrahimovic and Rooney in the team. Though supporters will be expecting a win at home against Fenerbahce, asking for a win in Turkey may be a little much, considering the reputation of the Fenerbahce fans to create a difficult atmosphere for visitors.
Manchester United have not faced this Dutch side since 1997, where they were drawn in the same Champions League Group; winning 2-1 at home and subsequently 3-1 away. Dutch legend, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, was in the Feyenoord team in 1997 and almost 20 years later he is going back to Old Trafford as Feyenoord’s manager. Currently at the top of the Eredvisie table, they are in hot form having scored 12 goals in four games.
Pacey forward Eljero Elia is currently in goal scoring form with three goals in four games, and was one of the main attacking threats last season. According to whoscored.com, he led the table for his team on dribbles per game (2.5), key passes (1.4) and was third on shots per game (2). Known for his fast wing play, he will definitely give the United’s full-backs something to think about.
Liverpool legend Dirk Kuyt and Michael Kramer scored 33 goals between them last season and will be a constant threat to United’s defence. Kuyt’s work rate and aerial ability is something United should be familiar with from his time at Liverpool and even at the age of 36, he still has a lot to offer. Kramer’s height will provide that aerial threat that could be utilised in set-pieces.
Feyenoord’s defence has only conceded once this season, and that has a lot to do with the way Van Bronckhurst has the team play. Their wingers work hard in tracking back and providing cover for their full-backs and in midfield, Karim El Ahmadi is pivotal to protecting Feyenoord’s centre backs this season, averaging 3.8 tackles per game, according towhoscored.com. They play a lot of possession football and work well defensively and offensively; making them hard to break down.
Manchester United will find it challenging to find weaknesses in this team, especially with them playing in their current form. However, United’s array of talent and the calibre of players such as Ibrahimovic and Pogba may prove just too much for Feyenoord, who arguably have not proven themselves against tougher opponents yet this season. United will definitely be looking to claim all six points in this match up.
This small Ukrainian club is participating in the Europa League for only the third time in their history and before the 2014/15 season, they had not participated in Europe for over 40 years. Their experienced captain and Ukrainian international, Mykyta Kamenyuka will be looking to lead his team in their Europa league group stage bow, having played over 250 games for the club. Their current top scorer is midfielder Oleksandr Karavayev and he can provide an attacking threat. However, a club of this stature rarely troubles teams of a much higher calibre, so it will be interesting to see how they decide to play against United. United will be expecting to claim all six points from this fixture, granted that no surprises occur.