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Preview: Manchester United vs. Villarreal - prediction, team news, lineups
29/09/2021 11:37:26

Just over four months after losing the Europa League final to Villarreal, Manchester United will be seeking revenge against their Spanish counterparts when the two sides lock horns in the Champions League group stage on Wednesday night (8:00PM, 29 Sept).

The Red Devils suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat to Young Boys in their opening Group F encounter, while the Yellow Submarine played out a 2-2 draw at home against Atalanta.

We say: Manchester United 1-1 Villarreal

The pressure is beginning to build for Solskjaer as Man United fans expect their side to be performing at a much higher standard, particularly in games they are predicted to win.

Wednesday's match is another fixture the Red Devils will be the favourites to win, and defeat here would seriously dent their hopes of Champions League progression.

Solskjaer is crying out for a response from his players, however they could be in for another difficult evening against a resilient Villarreal outfit, who have been hard to break down so far this term. Yet another draw between the two sides could be on the cards at Old Trafford.

Match preview

Heading into the month of September, Manchester United fans would have been expecting their side to go through a relatively straightforward fixture schedule unscathed, however the last few weeks have proven to be quite challenging for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, losing three of their last four games across all competitions.

After securing a 4-1 victory at home to Newcastle United shortly after the international break, their Champions League campaign got off to a nightmare start when they were defeated 2-1 by Group F outsiders Young Boys in Switzerland.

The Red Devils then came from behind to beat West Ham United 2-1 away from home in the Premier League, however the Hammers got their revenge just a few days later by winning 1-0 at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup. United then returned to full strength at home against Aston Villa on Saturday, but the visitors claimed three well-earned points, piling pressure on Solskjaer's shoulders.

Kourtney Hause's 88th-minute header condemned United to their second successive home defeat, however they had the chance to rescue a point in stoppage time, only for Bruno Fernandes – usually so reliable from the penalty spot, scoring 42 of his last 45 spot-kicks – to blaze his effort from 12 yards over the crossbar.

Currently in the middle of a run of four consecutive home games across all competitions, United now turn their attention back to the Champions League where they come up against a Villarreal outfit, who they have failed to beat in each of their five previous European encounters. In fact, all five meetings against them have ended in draws, four of which were goalless, except for last season's Europa League final which the La Liga side won 11-10 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes.

Manchester United have a poor record against Spanish opposition in the Champions League, having failed to win any of their last seven matches against them, with their last such victory against Real Sociedad back in October 2013.

In addition, Solskjaer himself has an unwanted Champions League record as United's boss, as the Norwegian is the only manager in the club's history to lose more than 50% of his games in charge, losing seven of his 11 matches in the competition.

United have never lost their opening two games in a major European competition, but if they were to fall short on Wednesday night, then further questions will certainly be asked regarding Solskjaer's long-term future at the helm.

Villarreal extended their unbeaten record across all competitions to seven matches, when they played out a goalless draw away at Spanish giants Real Madrid last weekend.

Unai Emery's side have now drawn five of their opening six La Liga matches; only Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt have drawn as many games at this stage of the season in Europe's top-five leagues.

One of those draws was at home against Atalanta in their first Champions League group game, though they were leading up until the 83rd minute when Robin Gosens equalised for the visitors, forcing both sides to share the spoils.

Villarreal are currently unbeaten in their last 16 European matches across both the Europa League and Champions League, the longest run of any team at present. Espanyol are the only Spanish side who have enjoyed a longer unbeaten run in European history, going 20 games without defeat between September 2006 and November 2009.

There are plenty of pros and cons for Emery to take away from their opening set of fixtures. Their resilience to grind out at least a draw and stay unbeaten should be commended, but having drawn four games without scoring, question marks will be raised regarding their threat going forward.

Last season's top goalscorer Gerard Moreno, who found the net 30 times across all competitions, has yet to hit the ground running this term, although he has missed the last few games due to injury and is a major doubt for Wednesday's encounter.

Emery has only won two of his seven games as a manager against Man United, but if the former Arsenal boss is able to guide his side to a victory at Old Trafford, then the Yellow Submarine will find themselves in a promising position to advance from Group F, even at this early stage.

Team News

Solskjaer is set to make three enforced changes to Man United's back four as Aaron Wan-Bissaka is suspended, while Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw were forced off in the 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday with respective calf and muscle injuries.

Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles are expected to start in the full-back positions, while Victor Lindelof is set to get the nod ahead of former Villarreal centre-back Eric Bailly, starting in the heart of the defence alongside Raphael Varane.

Marcus Rashford (shoulder) and Amad Diallo (thigh) remain on the sidelines due to injury and are not expected to return until the middle of October.

Scott McTominay and Fred could retain their midfield partnership, while Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba will likely start again in advanced midfield roles, with Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard set to begin on the bench once again.

Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to lead the line up front and will break Iker Casillas' Champions League record for the most appearances in the competition's history if he features on Wednesday, setting a new record of 178 games.

As for Villarreal, Gerard Moreno will be assessed before kick-off to see whether he has recovered from a muscle injury, while versatile midfielder Dani Raba is also doubtful with a knock.

The Yellow Submarine will be without Nigerian winger Samuel Chukwueze, who has yet to feature this campaign due to a hip problem.

Emery is set to name a similar side that drew with Real Madrid last weekend, which will likely see former Bournemouth winger Arnaut Danjuma start in attack alongside Paco Alcacer and Yeremi Pino.

Francis Coquelin, who was sent off against Atalanta earlier this month, is suspended so Manu Trigueros is set to join Etienne Capoue and Dani Parejo in a three-man midfield.

Centre-back Pau Torres – who has previously been linked with a move to Old Trafford – is expected to start at the heart of the defence alongside experienced Spaniard Raul Albiol, shielding goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, who scored the winning penalty against United in last season's Europa League final.

Manchester United possible starting lineup:

De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Varane, Telles; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Fernandes, Pogba; Ronaldo

Villarreal possible starting lineup:

Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, A. Moreno; Parejo, Capoue, Trigueros; Danjuma, Alcacer, Pino

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