Five things Manchester United must do to win at Wolfsburg tonight
Published 08/12/2015 | 13:33
Assuming PSV Eindhoven beat CSKA Moscow at home, United will need a win to qualify for the Champions League last 16 against a Wolfsburg side who need only a draw.
Here are a few things Louis van Gaal must get right if United are to get the result they need to avoid demotion to the Europa League.
1) Don’t let Anthony Martial get isolated
The Frenchman is Louis van Gaal’s only fit striker but he's in the middle of a lean spell that has yielded just one goal in 13 matches.
In mitigation, Martial has not been helped by a pretty conservative United midfield that has meant he's often found himself isolated when playing as the lone striker.
It's critical tonight that Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Memphis Depay provide Martial with support and are flexible enough to fill in at centre forward if Martial drifts wide.
A forward pass or two from Bastian Schweinsteiger would also be helpful.
2) Stop Julian Draxler getting a grip on the game
The perennial Arsenal target left Schalke for Wolfsburg this summer, and has made a solid start at his new club with three goals and three assists in his first 18 matches.
With his upright running style and willingness to get on the ball, Draxler has the ability to dominate big matches, as he did for Schalke against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season.
Assuming Draxler starts nominally on the left, Matteo Darmian will have his work cut out keeping him quiet, but Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick will also be required to drop in and double up when necessary.
3) Try and replicate the Dortmund model
Wolfsburg have a formidable home record and have lost just four of their last 42 matches at the Volkswagen Arena.
Luckliy for United though one of those defeats came as recently as Saturday against Borussia Dortmund, providing Van Gaal with some pointers for how to come away from Wolfsburg with a result.
Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund side were proactive on the weekend, and forced the hosts into mistakes with an energetic pressing game.
United don't necessarily have the central midfielders in Schweinsteiger and Carrick to play that way, so the emphasis may be on the front four to set the tone and try to harass and harry the Wolfsburg defenders and deeper-lying midfielders into mistakes.
4) Not going for the win too soon
Given Louis van Gaal's defensiveness this season, it would be a major surprise if he threw caution to the wind early on, but it's important United don't go looking for the win too early.
If PSV are winning then Wolfsburg would be going through with a draw but would go out were United to claim the win.
In that situation, patience will be key as inevitably there would be plenty of nerves around the stadium and on the pitch.
United would not need to go charging forward for the victory but instead, through the likes of Mata and Schweinsteiger, must take control of the match and bring their experience to bear by testing their opponents' resolve without leaving themselves exposed to a sucker punch.
5) Put Dante under pressure
The former Bayern Munich centre-back shares his compatriot David Luiz's ability to veer from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Dante is the type of defender who can be tempted into trying to beat an attacker when there's aboslutely no need to do so.
Martial, Lingard and Depay all have the pace to get at Dante when he has the ball and try and force the defender into making a mistake.