Manchester United will be eager to inch closer to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals when they face Real Betis on Thursday.

The UEFA Europa League resumes this week with eight Round of 16 ties. Arsenal will be in action in one of the earlier games against Sporting CP. And the English participation will continue when Manchester United and Real Betis clash at Old Trafford on Thursday night.

Manchester United had to take the scenic route to the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 after finishing second in Group E behind Real Sociedad. They met Barcelona in the knockout playoffs, beating the Blaugrana 4-3 on aggregate. But the Red Devils come into this fixture on the back of a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool this past weekend.

On the other hand, Real Betis finished atop Group C, not losing any of the six games. So the Andalusian outfit reached the Round of 16 and did not have European football to worry about last month. Meanwhile, the Verdiblancos come into this game on the back of a four-game unbeaten run, with the latest result being the goalless draw with Real Madrid on Sunday.

Thursday’s clash will be the first-ever match-up featuring Manchester United and Real Betis. And The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics

Manchester United

Erik ten Hag has new injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Real Betis on Thursday, the Manchester United manager will be bereft of the services of at least three first-team players.

Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), and Anthony Martial (hip) remain on the sidelines. And Marcel Sabitzer has joined them in the treatment room. In addition, ten Hag is sweating over the fitness of Victor Lindelof and Casemiro. The two players are recovering from knocks and will unlikely start against Real Betis on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Casemiro is one booking away from a suspension. So it is wise to keep him fit and potentially available for the second leg. That means Scott McTominay and Casemiro will likely pair up in the double pivot in the middle of the park.

There should also be some other changes from ten Hag after the disastrous performance against Liverpool. And Aaron Wan-Bissaka should replace Diogo Dalot, who was dreadful this past weekend. Tyrell Malacia will likely replace Luke Shaw on the left flank, while Harry Maguire and Lisandro Martinez should form the central defensive pairing.

Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho should be the two wide attackers, with their addition promoting fluidity in the final third. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes, who has been in hot water following his behaviour against Liverpool, should also feature.

The Portuguese international has received support from ten Hag and Marcus Rashford. And after potentially having an earful from ten Hag, Fernandes should reprise the no. 10 role. Finally, Rashford will spearhead the Manchester United attack against Real Betis.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Martinez, Malacia; McTominay, Sabitzer; Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Garnacho; Rashford

Real Betis

Like his counterpart in the Manchester United dugout, Manuel Pellegrini has pressing issues to deal with ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. The Real Betis manager will be without two first-team players on Thursday.

Nabil Fekir is a long-term absentee, with the French international done for the season due to an ACL rupture. In addition, Pellegrini will miss the services of Juan Cruz, with the Spaniard recovering from a hamstring injury.

But there is some good news, as Sergio Canales has recovered from a hamstring injury and will be available to take on Manchester United. But like Casemiro, the Real Betis quartet of Claudio Bravo, German Pezzella, Luiz Felipe and Aitor Ruibal will be walking the suspension tightrope on Thursday.

Bravo should feature between the sticks, with Real Betis lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him. Youssouf Sabaly and Juan Miranda should be the two full-backs, with Felipe and Pezzella forming the central defensive pairing.

As for the midfield unit, William Carvalho and Guido Rodriguez will pair up in the double pivot. The duo will aim to be defensive-minded in their approach, looking to contain Bruno Fernandes in the middle of the park.

Rodri Sanchez will be the most advanced midfielder, with the 22-year-old being the creative force for Real Betis. Meanwhile, the fit-again Canales should return to the offensive unit. The experienced attacker will join Ayoze Perez and Borja Iglesias in the final third.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Sabaly, Pezzella, Felipe, Miranda; Carvalho, Rodriguez; Canales, Rodri, Perez; Iglesias

Key Stats

  • Thursday’s fixture will be the first-ever meeting between Manchester United and Real Betis in any competition, with the Andalusian outfit the 12th different Spanish side the Red Devils will have faced in major European competition – the most from a single nation.
  • Real Betis have lost four of their previous six European games against English opponents (W1 D1), with this their first such game since November 2005 when they drew 0-0 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League.
  • Manchester United have not lost the first leg of any of their last eight European knockout ties (W4 D4). When their first leg has been at home in a UEFA Cup/Europa League knockout tie, the Red Devils have lost just one of 11 matches (W5 D5), losing 3-2 against Athletic Club in March 2012, just over 11 years to the day of the date their game against Real Betis will be played.
  • Real Betis have won just one of their last seven knockout matches in the UEFA Europa League (D3 L3), a 3-2 victory over Zenit St. Petersburg in February 2022. Their three knockout wins in the competition have all come away from home (vs Rubin Kazan and Sevilla in 2014 and Zenit in 2022).
  • Manuel Pellegrini has managed against Manchester United four times previously in European competition. All four games ended goalless in the group stages of the Champions League in 2005/06 and 2008/09 when he was the Villarreal manager. Those goalless stalemates account for 11% of Manchester United’s total 0-0 draws in major European competition ever (4/37).

Player to Watch

Scott McTominay

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Scott McTominay had a good run in the Manchester United starting eleven at the start of the season, with different factors leading to his regular appearances. But with Casemiro settling down and Fred’s performance levels improving, the Scottish international has fallen to the bench. However, the disastrous result versus Liverpool might have worked in his favour.

The 26-year-old will have the chance to make a rare appearance in the starting eleven. And he will look to impress Erik ten Hag with a game-changing performance against Real Betis. And amid widespread speculation surrounding his future, McTominay needs to go on a brilliant run from now till the end of the 2022/23 season.

Prediction

Manchester United 2-0 Real Betis

The two teams have played well since the World Cup break ended. But Manchester United’s result against Liverpool might have affected the moment they have been building. On the other hand, Real Betis will be buoyant after holding Real Madrid to a goalless draw on Sunday.

But Manchester United’s home form has been impressive, and they will likely extend that on Thursday. So while Real Betis will give the Red Devils a run for their money, a home win is on the cards. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 victory for Erik ten Hag and his charges, a handy lead heading into the second leg.

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