Monday 20 February 2017

Revival hopes and high stakes - Five Man United talking points ahead of Midtjylland clash

Published 24/02/2016 | 20:22

FC Midtjylland's Martin Pusic vies for the ball with Daley Blind (Getty Images)
FC Midtjylland's Martin Pusic vies for the ball with Daley Blind (Getty Images)

Manchester United play FC Midtjylland at Old Trafford on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie, with the hosts looking to turn things around after crashing to a 2-1 first leg defeat in Denmark last week.

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Here are five talking points around the contest.

WILL UNITED RETURN HOME IN THE MOOD?

This match sees United playing at home again for the first time in five fixtures. Their last Old Trafford outing was a positive one, with them comfortably beating Stoke 3-0, but so often this season Louis van Gaal's men have delivered performances at their own stadium sorely lacking in attacking vigour. The Dutchman, somewhat bizarrely, has called for his players to be "horny" on Thursday - and United fans will certainly want to see some desire from the team, channelled into an entertaining, winning display.

A REAL REVIVAL?

United had not recorded a victory since that Stoke game until they beat Shrewsbury 3-0 in the FA Cup on Monday. The return to winning ways came via a fairly encouraging performance - but it was against a League One side who were very accommodating.

Having stopped the rot, the Red Devils now have an important opportunity, only three days later, to continue building momentum ahead of Sunday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Arsenal.

THE STAKES ARE HIGH

This may be a Europa League last-32 match, but the significance for United and Van Gaal cannot be underestimated. As the manager has admitted, the club's best-looking chance of qualifying for next term's Champions League is by winning this competition.

Thus, failure to get the right result on Thursday will not only be hugely embarrassing for United - it will be a major blow to their season, and leave the increasingly under scrutiny Van Gaal's position looking more precarious than ever.

ARE MIDTJYLLAND CAPABLE OF FINISHING THE JOB?

Although United were widely derided for losing to Midtjylland last week, the first leg certainly showed the Danish champions - who had already beaten Southampton earlier in the season - to be a decent side. It will be interesting to see how their performance on Thursday compares, as they look to get over the line in what Van Gaal has described as "the match of their lives".

WILL SMALLING PLAY?

In yet more bad news for United on the injury front, it emerged on Wednesday that Chris Smalling is a doubt for this match. The centre-back has been one of the Red Devils' best performers this season and his absence from a defence already severely depleted by fitness problems would be a significant setback.

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