Out-of-form Manchester United will travel to Denmark without captain Wayne Rooney for the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-32 tie against FC Midtjylland due to a knee injury.
United’s turgid third-place finish in the UEFA Champions League group stage means Louis van Gaal’s men will continue their European campaign in the second-tier competition, their first appearance in the tournament since 2011-12.
Here's a look at the odds for both sides ahead of Thursday’s match, courtesy of Oddschecker:
|Match Odds: Midtjylland vs. Manchester United|
|Midtjylland to win||28/5|
|Manchester United to win||4/5|
The 2-1 Premier League defeat to Sunderland on Saturday heaped further pressure on under-fire United boss Van Gaal, with the lacklustre and effortless performances of several key players only worsening his weakened position at Old Trafford.
The team's central midfield partnership looks jaded and lacks inspiration. Michael Carrick was sluggish and persistently negative in possession against the north-east opponents, while Morgan Schneiderlin's form has stuttered and plummeted in the same manner as United's league form.
However, there was one bright spark among an altogether shoddy and humiliating defeat to the relegation strugglers, with Anthony Martial providing a touch of rare individual class.
His deft chipped finish over the grounded Vito Mannone showed composure beyond his years. At just 20 years old, Martial has a unique calmness inside the 18-yard box but must begin to show that quality on a more regular basis.
With seven league goals this season, Martial must improve his ruthlessness in front of goal for him to develop into the player many onlookers believe the France international can become.
Midtjylland welcome the Premier League giants to the MCH Arena on the back of a shocking run of form that has seen them win just two of their last 14 matches in all competitions, per Soccerway.
However, the Danes will be bolstered by the knowledge they have already eliminated English opposition from the competition this term, progressing past Southampton in the play-off qualifiers in August with a 2-1 aggregate win.
The 2015 Danish champions' social media team could barely contain their excitement after hearing about their draw:
FC Midtjylland @fcmidtjylland
MANCHESTER UNITED!!!!!!!2015-12-14 12:26:35
Their star performer arrives in the form of teenage playmaker Mikkel Duelund. Per Adam Smith for the Daily Mail, the attacking midfielder is one of the hottest prospects in Danish football and remains a huge fan of United and England captain Rooney.
The attacking midfielder has eight goals in 10 matches at under-19 international level, per Goal’s Robin Bairner, and admits he is prepared for the task at hand, saying: "I always enjoy a tough challenge and they don’t come much bigger than a great club from the best league in the world."
Europa League Key to United’s Hopes of Champions League Spot
Per Manchester Evening News’ Rob Dawson, Louis van Gaal admitted it would be “very difficult” for United to qualify for next season’s Champions League with the Red Devils falling six points behind neighbours Manchester City in the battle for fourth spot.
Rooney also stated after the crushing loss to Sunderland last weekend that winning the Europa League could prove to be the club’s best chance of confirming their spot in the elite competition.
He told BT Sport (via ESPN): "It's going to be tough to win the Premier League from the position we're in now, so I think our main aim is to get into that top four and it'd be great to win the Europa League. It wasn't our aim at the start of the season but it's where we are now."
Memphis Handed Chance by Rooney Absence
The England captain will play no part in United’s first-leg trip to Scandanavia, having suffered a knee injury that could keep him sidelined for around eight weeks, per Scott Patterson of ESPN.
Memphis Depay, fresh from his late-night partying in Rotterdam, per Metro’s Sean Kearns, could be expected to play a leading role in United’s attack on Thursday despite not starting a match since Boxing Day against Stoke City.
Indeed, the game against Midtjylland could prove to be the catalyst for Depay to straighten his career in England. The Dutch winger has previously shown a liking for Europe, displaying his class with a two-goal haul against Club Brugge in August last year. Against opponents of a similar standard, the young attacker could use the tie to remind supports why he arrived with such a hyped reputation.