FC Astana vs Manchester United Preview: Young Reds get their chance in the Europa League
Photo by Joe Giddens of PA Images via GettyImages

Manchester United return to Europa League action on Thursday afternoon, as the Red Devils will travel to Kazakhstan to take on FC Astana.

United have already clinched their spot in the next round of the tournament, sat in first place in Group L after picking up 10 points in their opening four group games.

It’s been a different story for Astana, who have lost all of their Europa League games so far this campaign, with a goal differential of -13 at the moment.

The Red Devils are heavy favorites going into this contest, but playing a youthful side in tough road conditions could give Astana a chance on the afternoon.

Last time out

It’s been about two months since these two sides faced off in Matchweek 1 of the Europa League in an admittedly tight affair.

Fans at Old Trafford were expecting an offensive explosion against weaker opposition, but that isn’t what they got on the night. 

United controlled possession early on, but they didn’t manage to do much with the ball when they had it. Astana dropped back deep, and the Red Devils had problems trying to break them down. The away side was actually more dangerous at times, as they started to hit back on the counter with some speed.

It took 73 minutes, but the Red Devils finally found the back of the net. Mason Greenwood got the ball on the edge of the area before cutting on to his stronger right foot and slotting home through the legs of the goalkeeper.

Both sides had a chance to add another goal before the contest was over, but United were able to preserve the 1-0 scoreline to secure three crucial points on the night.

Team news

There are only three senior United players travelling to Kazakhstan, with that trio being Lee Grant, Jesse Lingard, and the returning Luke Shaw. The rest of the team is made up of younger players who have featured this season and youth products who haven’t quite yet graduated from the academy.

Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, and James Garner will be the players most United fans recognize first, as they’ve made some impact this season already. 

There are also a number of players who could make their first team debuts on Thursday, like Ethan Laird, Teden Mengi, and Arnau Puigmal.

Another interesting name on the roster is Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who might finally be able to return from an injury that’s kept him off the field for ages. After making an impressive start to life with United, health problems and disappointing loan spells have prevented the Dutchman from building upon his early showings. Hopefully he gets a chance on Thursday to do that.

Astana will only be without Zarko Tomasevic, as the left back picked up an injury in their earlier Europa League game vs Partizan Belgrade

Predicted lineups

Astana: Eric, Rukavina, Postnikov, Logvinenko, Shomko, Tomasov, Pertsukh, Maewski, Beysebekov, Khizhnichen, Rotariu

Manchester United: Grant, Laird, Taylor, Mengi, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Garner, Puigmal, Chong, Greenwood, Gomes

What to watch for

A remarkable return

It’s been a dreadful season so far for United, but fans of the club could have something to smile about come Thursday afternoon.

Red Devils younger Max Taylor was named to the squad travelling to Kazakhstan, and his comeback story is truly a special one.

The player was diagnosed with a form of cancer this past February, immediately having to go through chemotherapy treatment as a result. After several months in the hospital, Taylor was able to recover from the disease, and make his return to the U-23 side in September. Now, the defender is set to make his first team debut against Astana. 

He should see the field at some point on Thursday, capping off his incredible comeback in the best possible way.