RSC Anderlecht stand between Manchester United and the Europa League semi-final, but what sort of a threat do the Belgians pos to Jose Mourinho’s side?
With a place in the Premier League top four far from certain, Manchester United’s best hope at qualifying for next season’s Champion’s League looks set to be winning the continent’s secondary competition, the Europa League.
Standing in their way in Thursday’s quarter-final tie is Belgian side Anderlecht. The first leg game in Brussels cannot be understated and United will be determined to come away with a positive result.
So, what should Jose Mourinho’s side expect from the purple and white clad veterans of European competition?
Anderlecht are currently two games into the Championship Playoff phase of the Belgian First Division. The regular league season in Belgium finishes in March and the top six teams at that point then go through to the Playoff.
The six teams plays each other twice in a mini-league to determine who wins the title and Anderlecht are top after Sunday’s 0-0 home draw with Gent.
Anderlecht finished second in their Europa League group to Saint-Étienne and subsequently saw off Zenit St. Petersburg and APOEL Nicosia to reach the quarter final stage. Many would have expected Zenit to win the last-32 tie, but Anderlecht recorded an impressive 2-0 home victory and despite a 3-1 loss in Russia they managed to make it through on away goals.
United will be confident they can beat the Belgians, but they would do well to be cautious of certain threats they pose.
25-year old Polish striker Łukasz Teodorczyk has 28 goals in all competitions this season and has reportedly been eyed by a number of Premier League clubs.
The fleet-footed attacker is a lethal finisher and definitely has the ability to trouble United’s makeshift defensive partnership of Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo. Despite his slender frame, the 6’1′ forward is deadly in the air and scores a lot of headers. United would do well to watch him closely when Anderlecht have any set pieces.
The average age of the Anderlecht side is 24 so they do lack experience, but they are used to winning games. None more so than Youri Tielemans. The 19-year old is like a Belgian Dele Alli and has bags of potential. He made his debut aged just 16 and has amassed 34 goals in 168 appearances since.
Tielemans plays in a central midfield role, equally as comfortable in defending and attacking. He started his career in a deep role, but has been more recently pushed forward and his goals tally has increased. He is a real all-round midfielder and is surely destined for one of Europe’s top clubs in the near future.
In recent games Anderlecht have deployed a 4-5-1 formation and will probably decide to pack the midfield against United. However, if the visitors do gain control of possession they should be able to expose the Belgian’s backline.
The likely line up will have Kara Mbodji and Uroš Spajić at centre back, two physically imposing defenders who will relish the challenge of Zlatan Ibrahimović. However, if the Swedish marksman continues the form he has been in of late he will surely prove too much to handle.
In what has the makings of a tight and cagey affair, United have the quality to just shade it.
Verdict: Anderlecht 0-1 Manchester United
Michael Cole, Pundit Arena.