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Preview: Manchester United vs. Astana

Manchester United begin their 2019-20 Europa League campaign with a game against champions of Kazakhstan Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday night.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, having failed to score freely since the opening day of the season, will be expected to notch a few goals against a dogged but significantly weaker opponent.

Match preview

United return to the Europa League after squandering an excellent position to finish in the top four last season, with Solskjaer’s men – having initially won nine away games in a row from December – won just two of their last nine league outings as they ran out of steam after a famous 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in March.

Their first five games of the new campaign suggests that the effects of this sudden malaise continues to permeate these players, who came under heavy criticism for performances against Crystal Palace and Southampton before the international break.

Not many have tipped Solskjaer’s side to finish in the Champions League spots this season, adding a great deal of importance to their Europa League venture.

After all, United reached Europe’s elite through beating Ajax in the final of this competition back in 2017 having finished sixth in the Premier League, with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan starring to hand Jose Mourinho another continental title.

While their league form continues to falter, it could be argued that this triumph in Stockholm and the night in Paris last season serves an indication that United continue to possess a measure of European pedigree.

The Red Devils have an excellent opportunity to land a heavy marker by convincingly beating an Astana team which only came into existence in 2009, and whose stadium is closer to Hong Kong than to Manchester.

That said, this is a team which has dominated Kazakhstan since 2014, winning five consecutive domestic league titles and coming through a playoff to reach the Europa League group stages for five years running.

Moreover, Astana have recorded a number of impressive results in Europe, holding Atletico Madrid to a 0-0 draw in 2014 and claiming a 3-3 draw away to Sporting Lisbon when they reached the last 32 in 2018.

So much of Astana’s dominance must be put down to manager Stanimir Stoilov, who joined the club in 2014 and reaped instant success, before leaving to manage the Kazakhstan national team last year.

However, his legacy of setting up an ebullient, organised group of players capable of properly competing against teams across Europe remains, and United must be wary of complacency against a side with absolutely nothing to lose.

Manchester United form: WDLDW
Astana form: WWWLW


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