Man United begin their Europa League journey at Danish champions Midtjylland on Thursday.
Danish champions Midtjylland, owned by the football analytics and statistics pioneer Matthew Benham who also owns Brentford, picked up the pieces behind Napoli in Group D in their first Europa League group campaign. They’ve landed themselves a dream tie against Man Utd, who lost at the Stadium of Light on the weekend and with speculation mounting that Jose Mourinho is set to take Van Gaal’s job at Old Trafford, this could be an excellent time to play the Red Devils.
United crashed out of the Champions League following a defeat at Wolfsburg and their poor league form suggests the best chance they might have of playing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights rather than Thursdays next season is by winning this competition.
Prior to their winter break, Midtjylland were third in the Superliga, four points behind leaders Copenhagen. They beat Southampton to qualify for the tournament at the start of the season thanks to a 1-0 home win after a 1-1 draw at St Mary’s and they also had the experience of playing an English side back in 2008/09 against United’s Manchester rivals, though they missed out on qualification despite a 1-0 win at the City of Manchester Stadium, as it was known then.
We have Midtjylland ranked as the 113th best side in Europe while United are up in 19th and the record of sides between 100th and 150th when hosting sides between 10th and 30th in the knockout stages of the Europa League since 2008/09 is W3-D2-L4, though the fact that Midtjylland lost the two fixtures against Napoli in the group stages by an aggregate of 9-1 is a concern when it comes to facing better sides.
United lost two of their three Champions League away games this season, at PSV on the opening matchday and then crucially at Wolfsburg in their last group game, as they crashed out of the tournament. Indeed, in the post-Ferguson era United’s European away record is a worrying W1-D3-L4, though they did manage to win 4-0 at Brugge to qualify for the competition this season. United’s European away record against sides ranked between 75th and 150th since 2002/03 is W4-D0-L3 as they’ve only won two of these games by more than one goal and drew the first half in five of the last six.
United look a little short to us in this one at 1.7 and Midtjylland make appeal +0.75 on the Asian Handicap given United’s poor current form and poor recent European away record. Indeed, the Danish side also beat Brugge 3-1 away in the Europa League group stages so on that form line there doesn’t look to be too much between these two. However, the best bet looks to be for this one to be all-square at the break as was the case in four of United’s six Champions League group stage matches and 16 of their 26 Premier League games this season, with Van Gaal acknowledging that his possession based style is reliant on wearing sides out and taking advantage of fatigue towards the end of games.
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