Knock-out European matches like the best of FA Cups

Manchester United have three knock-out matches to win their second UEFA Europa League. Based out of RheinEnergie Stadion, Cologne for all three matches which is also the host for the final gives them an edge. But competition is stiff where they meet FC Copenhagen in quarters tonight, Wolves or Sevilla in semis on 17th and from another half of the table winners of Inter Milan vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk v Basel in the finals on 21st August. The one off nature of this years tournament due to the pandemic has forced this into a knockout which gives all eight teams with an rare and equal opportunity to win like the FA Cups in its heyday as Geoffrey Green recounts in 'The Official History of the FA Cup' as "the sudden thrill of the knock-out blow" and unlike the two-legged affair as "We were to become adding machines, working out aggregates on our finger tips. David had now to face Goliath twice and his chance of glory diminished."

The most telling comment in the press conference from Solskjaer was on the goal keeping situation where he said "I must be the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department with Sergio, David and Dean Henderson coming back. We have seen this season how important Sergio has been for us and, for me, David is always performing. Competition for places is important but it will be difficult to keep three of them at the club, so we will see what the decision will be there." Unlike the FA Cup loss to Chelsea where he dropped Sergio Romero for David de Gea who by his standards let in two goals, he might stick with the Argentinian who has played in all the Europa League Cup matches so far this season.

Rumours has been rife about Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea for next season amidst his contract negotiations after winning Sheffield United's young player of the year where he was on loan. Sheffield club meanwhile have started their search for alternate keeper with a bid for Aaron Ramsdale from relegated Bournemouth. That would open up the goal keepers in the squad into scrutiny where Sergio Romero, Lee Grant and Joel Pereira enter their final year of contracts. The January signing of Southend United and England U20 keeper Nathan Bishop was a step in that direction, who due to the pandemic that shortened the EPL2 season could not yet make his competitive debut but is listed in the Europa League squad nonetheless!
MUFC U23's got promoted to EPL2 Division One as they were second behind leaders West Ham when the season was halted yet ultimately decided by points-per-game mechanism. The fate of FA Youth Cup is awaited where United are in semi-finals and need to face Chelsea, a stage they have reached for the first time since 2011-12 season when they lost to eventual winners Chelsea. The best part winning the second leg of the round of 16 against LASK 2-1 in a 7-1 aggregate was debut to youth team captain Teden Mengi and refreshing Tahith Chong brought on as left-back.
FC Copenhagen finished a distant second in the Danish Superliga 14 points behind champions FC Midtjylland. They are coached by former team mate of Solskjaer from 1998 World Cup squad the playmaker Stale Solbakken in his second stint winning the league eight times in total. 21 year old forward Jonas Wind scored twice to turn 0-1 deficit against Istanbul Basaksehir and help his team win. Among their ranks is former United right back Guillermo Varela from Uruguay whose tattoo obsession before DFB Podkal final for Eintracht Frankfurt became infectious ending a successful loan spell by a suspension. Solbakken having managed FC Koln for one season will be aware of the demands of playing in North Rhine-Westphalia and managed around 600 games for Copenhagen. He is without four players; striker Santos, attacking midfielder Fischer, Sigurdsson and Thomsen none of whom played against Basaksehir either. This will be the third meeting between the two clubs, previous two coming in the 2006-07 Champions' League campaign. United lost the second leg 0-1 after securing the top spot in Group F while winning the first leg 3-0 at home. Its the first ever quarter-final appearance for a Danish side in a European competition since 1997. Easily the biggest match in the careers of many Copenhagen players!

What United should watch out for is complacency after securing top four finish to play in the Champions' League next season which is coincidentally also the reward of winning the Europa League Cup. Most of the starting XI were rested for the second leg win over LASK giving the likes of Bruno Fernandes two weeks off after playing in every game since his arrival in January that turned the season around. Jesse Lingard having scored in his last two games might be on the bench. Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe are the only three players who haven't traveled to Germany and with Brandon Williams speaking to the press ahead of the game he might actually start in place of injured Shaw. Two semi-final cup defeats in League Cup and FA Cup will have strengthened the team's resolve to not let another opportunity to win their first trophy go begging, while 14 games unbeaten in Premier League will give Solskjaer's team a confidence boost.

Romero(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

Prost! (with Kolsch)🍻

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