Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford celebrate opening the scoring against Arsenal last Saturday. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Hello. The story so far: blue chip football operation Manchester United have got themselves into a mighty pickle. If there is one thing worse for the brand than fluthering around in the Europa League, it’s going full clobber to win the darn thing but flunking out at the group stages. That is the ignominy that will hit United like a custard pie if Feyenoord beat them again today, the Dutch having already done so in Rotterdam earlier in the group. Such an outcome does not seem likely, though: Feyenoord have some key enforced absences, especially in central defence, and United, for all their recent travails, including against Fenerbahce in their last outing in this tournament, have not lost any of their 13 European matches at Old Trafford since the retirement of Alex Ferguson. What is more, United showed encouraging signs of improvement in their last match, against Arsenal on Saturday, although, on the other hand, the fact that they failed to win that game could be seen as evidence that they remain saddled with a haplessness that is doing nothing for the rectitude of Jose Mourinho’s melon. The manager said this week that restoring United to full power is a three-year job and you can see where he is coming from – the squad plainly needs work – but even he suggested there could be no excuse for defeat today (indeed, but chances are he could find one if necessary). Even a draw today could ultimately prove enough to get United into the next round, provided they beat Zorya Luhansk in their final game and Feyenoord do not beat Fenerbahce, but a victory, preferably thanks to a rousing performance, is what they really need to avoid a severe accumulation of stress and hot air over the days ahead. Let’s see how they go.
Manchester United dare not lose to Feyenoord as spectre of 2005 looms