Dubai: Manchester United turn their attention to Europe on Thursday with a somewhat unexpected spring in their step.
A woeful start to the season has them languishing down in 14th in the Premier League, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men having only registered two wins in the league in the Norwegian’s first full season in charge.
A penalty shoot-out victory over third-tier Rochdale in the League Cup and a scrappy 1-0 success over Astana in the Europa League are United’s only other triumphs so far this term, but Sunday’s tenacious 1-1 draw with runaway Premier League leaders and European champions Liverpool offers a glimmer of hope that things might — just might — be falling into place at Old Trafford.
A timely return to Europa League action will give United a chance to cement some stability as they travel to Partizan Belgrade in search of a win that will take them top of Group L (yes, that’s L for Lemon — there are far too many teams in this tournament) and go a long way to proving their credentials as one of the favourites to lift the trophy in Gdansk, Poland, come May.
With Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and Kazakh outfit Astana making up the numbers in United’s group, a victory on Thursday should see them safely through to the knockout stages, and put them in the driving seat to win their group.
With much tougher challenges ahead — both at home and in Europe — a convincing win on the road could belatedly kick-start their season before another manager ends up on the Old Trafford scrapheap.
Down in London, beleaguered Arsenal will be looking to put Monday’s embarrassing defeat to Sheffield United behind them when they host Portuguese minnows side Vitoria Guimaraes.
Unai Emery’s men took a real confidence knock as they failed to turn up at Bramall Lane and Thursday offers a perfect chance to wrong the rights and keep their perfect Europa record intact. They lead Standard Liege and Frankfurt by three points after two matches in Group F, while Vitoria are yet to pick up their first point of the campaign.
There is a clash of fallen European giants in Group E as Scottish champions Celtic host Italy’s Lazio. Neil Lennon’s side are undefeated so far in the competition and impressed in defeating Cluj last time out. They will face a stern test in the shape of the Rome-based visitors, however, who are looking to get their season back on track after a stuttering start already sees them 10 points behind Serie A leaders Juventus and the Europa League offers them a realistic chance of silverware.
Celtic’s domestic rivals Rangers take on Porto over in Portugal in a tough Group G, with all four sides — including Feyenoord and Swiss team Young Boys — all locked on three points apiece.
Qarabag v APOEL, 8.55pm
Porto v Rangers, 8.55pm
Young Boys v Feyenoord, 8.55pm
Gent v Wolfsburg, 8.55pm
St-Etienne v Oleksandria, 8.55pm
CSKA Moscow v Ferencvaros, 8.55pm
Ludogorets v Espanyol, 8.55pm
Roma v Borussia M’gladbach, 8.55pm
Istanbul B v Wolfsburg, 8.55pm
Besiktas v Sporting Braga, 8.55pm
Slovan Bratislava v Wolves, 8.55pm
Partizan v Manchester United, 8.55pm
AZ Alkmaar v Astana, 8.55pm
Celtic v Lazio, 11pm
Rennes v Cluj, 11pm
Arsenal v Vitoria Guimaraes, 11pm
Eintracht v Standard Liege, 11pm
Sevilla v F91 Dudelange, 11pm
Dynamo Kiev v Copenhagen, 11pm
Malmo v Lugano, 11pm
Getafe v Basel, 11pm
Trabzonspor v Krasnodar, 11pm
Sporting v Rosenborg, 11pm
PSV v LASK, 11pm