Europa League hopes on the brink ahead of Fenerbahce visit
No preview of a fixture against Fenerbahçe is complete without dutiful reference to a brace of pivotal games in Manchester United’s recent history. First, the Turkish side secured a famous victory at Old Trafford in October 1996, the first home loss by United in European competition, some 40 years after the Reds first took to continental football. Then, and certainly more memorable, came that début in 2004, when teenage sensation Wayne Rooney scored at hat-trick at Old Trafford in United’s 6-2 victory.
Much has changed more than a decade on from Rooney’s sensational start to his United career. Much is the same too. This is a United side in transition as it was back in 2004, little more than a year before the Glazer takeover. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team had finished third behind Arsenal and Chelsea the previous season and would complete the 2004/5 campaign behind the London pair once again.
Yet, it was also team in which a sensational young star would prove to be the catalyst for coming triumphs. Enough about Cristiano Ronaldo though, Rooney also played a significant part in United’s revival, with Ferguson’s side recapturing the Premier League title by 2007.
"Rooney’s United début serves as a reminder both of the sensational player the Scouser once was, and the ephemerality of talent. Rooney was the future once. No longer."
Whether any of today’s young stars will prove to be similarly inspirational for José Mourinho’s United incarnation is to be seen. For now, however, Rooney’s début back in ’04 serves as a reminder both of the sensational player the Scouser once was, and the ephemerality of talent. Rooney was the future once. No longer. Indeed, the striker is far from an automatic pick in the United team despite the former Evertonian having enjoyed ‘special privileges’ under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal over the past three years of visible decline. It has been a very long road from Fenerbahçe in ’04 to the bench in ’16.
Yet, Rooney may get what is now a rare start should Mourinho rest a below-par Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Thursday night or change up midfield after United’s battle at Anfield. The English captain needs it as well having not started a game – save for England’s narrow win over Malta – since United beat Northampton Town in the League Cup on 21 September.
Nor Rooney quite ready to give up on a place in the team, not that Mourinho has suggested that the 30-year-old has no route back either, although logic dictates that the Portuguese manager has better options in almost every position.
“I like to think I can play every game, but obviously it’s the manager’s decision and I respect that,” said Rooney this week. “I will be ready when I’m needed. I’m 31 next week and I’ve got a lot of football left. I’ve started through all my career and this is a new challenge, it’s a new period. Of course I want to play. I just have to keep working to get into the team and I’m sure my chances will come. Then it is up to me to take them.”
Boy Wonder, 2004
Elsewhere United’s fifth game against the Yellow Canaries will bring a reunion with a former Red – Robin van Persie. The Dutchman enjoyed a sensation first season with the club, scoring 30 goals in all competitions, to fire United to the title in Ferguson’s final campaign. Injury and form meant that Van Persie never hit those heights again, although he is sure to receive a warm and lasting Old Trafford reception on Thursday – a ground he still calls “home.”
“It will be a special occasion and a special game for me,” Van Persie told MUTV. “I know Manchester United want to be in the Champions League, but it is how it is now and for me it is a very special group in the Europa League. I am looking forward to it. I want to do well for my team but of course it will be special to play ‘at home’ in a great stadium with great fans against a great team.”
Fenerbahçe finished second in Süper Lig last season and Dick Advocaat’s team has taken four points in the group to date to top the standings. Indeed, Europe has proven a good distraction with the veteran manager’s side struggling domestically. Fenerbahçe slipped to ninth in the league at the weekend after a home draw with Alanyaspor and the team has secured just two victories in the past seven league games. Talk of replacing the Dutchman is already doing the rounds.
“If the club thinks they can find a better manager they can do it tomorrow,” said Advocaat. “I am not here for myself. I am here for the club. It’s simple. If you want to be at the top then you have to win your home matches. We have to find out what’s wrong. I can only blame myself and the players.”
It is the kind of that offers United hope. The Reds lie third after two group games having lost to Feyenoord on match day 1, and narrowly beaten Zorya Luhansk. Mourinho can certainly not afford a repeat of ’96, when Elvir Bolić’s late goal won the game for the Turks.
Subs from: Johnstone, Blind, Darmian, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Mkhitaryan, Memphis, Rashford
Subs from: Taşkıran, Özbayraklı, Köybaşı, Neustädter, Potuk, Şen, Civelek, Uçan, Stoch, Sow
Henrik Mkhitaryan will return to the United squad after returning from injury, while Luke Shaw is also available in what is likely to be a much changed side from Monday night’s draw with Liverpool at Anfield.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero and defenders Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Shaw could all start, with Marcos Rojo also an option in defence. Mkhitaryan is likely to find a place on the bench, although the Armenian has fully recovered from the thigh problem that has kept him out of the side since United lost to Manchester City last month.
“He was injured and he was injured for quite a long time. Now, he’s not injured anymore,” confirmed Mourinho. “He’s training with the team without any limitation. He’s fit and it’s now time for him to go back to the levels we know that he can achieve.”
Elsewhere, Mourinho could rest Ibrahimovic, although the Swede has started all 12 games this season, scoring six goals. Shaw is the only player Mourinho has confirmed will play, while the manager may mix up a midfield that worked hard to stifle Liverpool on Monday. United faces games against Chelsea and City in the next week.
“I don’t want to give you the team, honestly,” added Mourinho. “Sometimes I do, sometimes I give some tips, but this time Luke Shaw, he plays. But he’s the only one I will tell you. Wayne is working well, he’s one of those who is responsible for the atmosphere that the players can breathe because he’s positive, he’s a good example. We count on him to start or be on the bench. He will be there tomorrow.”
Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata could be involved, while Ashley Young may retain his place after enjoying a positive outing at Anfield. Memphis Depay is unlikely to start having featured for just 94 minutes in all competitions this season.
Referee: Benoît Bastien
Assistant referees: Hicham Zakrani, Frédéric Haquette
Additional assistant referees: Benoît Millot, Jérôme Miguelgorry
United 2-1 Fenerbahçe