Manchester United will aim to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals when they take on Real Betis at Estadio Benito Villamarin on Thursday.

The Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League will conclude on Thursday. And the action will kick off at the Benito Villamarin Stadium, where Real Betis will lock horns with Manchester United, with the visitors firmly in command of the tie.

Real Betis reached the Europa League Round of 16 by cruising through the group stage. They finished atop Group C, six points clear of AS Roma. Meanwhile, the Verdiblancos come into the game on the back of a three-game winless run, the latest being a 1-1 draw with Villarreal.

On the other hand, Manchester United had to take the scenic route to the Europa League Round of 16. The Red Devils finished second in Group E before beating Barcelona in the playoffs to reach the knockout phase. But their form has petered out in the last couple of weeks, with their last two Premier League games not yielding a win. And Erik ten Hag’s men have not even scored a goal in those outings.

The reverse fixture saw Manchester United dominate the proceedings at Old Trafford and clinch a 4-1 win. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.

Team News & Tactics

Real Betis

Manuel Pellegrini does not have any new injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Manchester United on Thursday, the Real Betis manager will be bereft of the services of three first-team players.

Luiz Felipe is the latest absentee after sustaining a hamstring injury in the first leg. Meanwhile, Nabil Fekir will not play another game this season and will return in September. The only other player on the sidelines is Juan Cruz (thigh).

Claudio Bravo should get the nod between the sticks, with Real Betis lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him. Victor Ruiz should deputise for Felipe, joining German Pezzella in the central defensive partnership. Youssouf Sabaly and Juan Miranda will be the two full-backs.

William Carvalho, who missed the weekend game due to a suspension, will return. The Portuguese international will accompany Guido Rodriguez in the middle of the park. The duo will primarily be defensive-minded in their approach while focusing on initiating quick transitions.

Ayoze Perez scored Real Betis’s goal last week and should reprise the no. 10 role. But he will play the second striker role rather than being the creative supremo for the hosts. So Sergio Canales and Juanmi should don the creative hat, with Perez and Borja Iglesias focusing on the goalscoring duties.

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

Manchester United

Unlike his counterpart in the Real Betis dugout, Erik ten Hag is grappling with a few new issues ahead of the trip to Estadio Benito Villamarin. The Manchester United manager might be without six first-team players on Thursday.

Alejandro Garnacho is the latest absentee, with the young winger sustaining an ankle injury versus Southampton on Sunday. The 18-year-old will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. And he has joined Donny van de Beek (knee) and Christian Eriksen (ankle) on the sidelines.

In addition, ten Hag is sweating over the fitness of Victor Lindelof (illness), Marcel Sabitzer (knock), and Anthony Martial (hip). Sabitzer and Martial have been training and might be available to make the bench on Thursday.

There is no looking past David de Gea between the sticks. And Manchester United should line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Real Betis. The backline should see a couple of changes as ten Hag looks to keep his troops fresh.

So Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia should come in for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw. The duo will be out to prove their credentials and show they have a lot to offer to Manchester United. But Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez should retain their central defensive pairing.

Casemiro will miss the next four domestic games after seeing red against Southampton. But the Brazilian international is available in Europe and picks himself in the double pivot. Fred should return to the starting eleven, with Bruno Fernandes being the sole no. 10. Finally, Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst, and Marcus Rashford should complete the offensive unit.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Malacia; Casemiro, Fred; Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Weghorst

Key Stats

  • On Thursday, Real Betis will play a home game in Europe against an English side for the first time since November 2005 when they beat Chelsea 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League group stages.
  • Including Thursday’s game, five of Manchester United’s last seven away European games  will have been in Spain. They have not lost any of their most recent four (W2 D2), beating Real Sociedad and drawing at Barcelona this season alone.
  • Real Betis have only progressed from one of their previous six major European ties when they have lost the first leg, overcoming a 1-0 first leg loss to Vejle BK in the first round of the UEFA Cup in 1998/99 to win 5-1 in the second leg.
  • Of all teams to win by a 3+ goal margin in the first leg of a UEFA Europa League knockout tie (2009/10 onwards), only one has ever been eliminated: Basel vs Valencia in the 2013/14 quarter-final (won 3-0 first leg, lost 5-0 second leg).
  • Marcus Rashford has scored 24 goals in major European competition for Manchester United and could become only the sixth player to net 25 for the Red Devils. Aged 25 years and 136 days on the day of this game, the youngest player to reach 25 major European goals for the club. He will also be the youngest Englishman to reach the landmark in major European competitions in history.

Player to Watch

Marcus Rashford

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Rashford has indubitably been the most in-form player in the world since the World Cup ended. That has helped him win the Premier League Player of the Month awards for January and February. But the Englishman has not started March as well as he had the last two months.

While he found the back of the net against Real Betis last week, he was off-colour against Liverpool and Southampton due to various factors. And Rashford will be desperate to get back to scoring ways and make a difference for Manchester United. In doing so, he can break a few records.


Real Betis 1-3 Manchester United

The visitors are starting to show a soft underbelly in recent games. So Real Betis might feel that Manchester United will be rife for the taking on Thursday. And like last week, the hosts can catch the Red Devils off-guard and find a way past David de Gea.

But Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford will again run riot and find a way past a vulnerable Real Betis defence. That will ensure that Manchester United will clinch a straightforward route to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Erik ten Hag’s men, sealing a 7-2 aggregate victory.

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