Manchester United can ill afford another slip-up when they welcome Istanbul Basaksehir to Old Trafford in a Champions League Group H thrown wide open by the Turkish side’s surprise win over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charges.
It was anything but Turkish delight for Solskjaer and Manchester United on their trip Istanbul just shy of three weeks ago. Having assumed pole position in the group with emphatic wins against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, the inconsistency which has mired the Norwegian’s spell in charge of the club raised its head again as the club shipped two first half goals en route to a 2-1 away defeat.
Again, and as so often been the case for them, United were their own worst enemy – particularly when you consider the calamitous defending which led to former Chelsea player Demba Ba’s strike just before half time. This has been a recurring theme at Old Trafford lately; instances of grandeur laced with catastrophic blunders, and rarely anywhere in between.
And so, which iteration of Manchester United can Istanbul Basaksehir expect when the two teams meet on Tuesday?
🗣️ “We know the look of the group and need at least 10 points to go through,” adds the boss.”We’re going to go into the game and try and win it well with a good performance.”#MUFC#UCLpic.twitter.com/uwFWvVEhRV
Solskjaer is poised to welcome back Paul Pogba to the Manchester United midfield after the French World Cup winner was absent from Saturday’s Premier League win against West Brom and will make a decision as to whether to continue with Dean Henderson – who started in goal in the away fixture in Istanbul – or David de Gea.
Edinson Cavani, who has still to start since joining the club several weeks ago, is getting closer to full fitness but is unlikely to dislodge Solskjaer’s preferred attacking trident of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood just yet.
And Pogba’s return will offer Solskjaer another opportunity assemble his midfield jigsaw, with the Frenchman vying with the likes of Donny van de Beek, Fred, Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic for inclusion – but recent evidence has appeared to suggest that United are at their most streamlined when Pogba is absent.
🗣️ “When you go to Turkey you know it’s going to be difficult,” says Ole.”We played really well against Everton afterwards, then we beat West Brom, got a clean sheet and could have scored a few more. We want to carry on that momentum.”#MUFC#UCLpic.twitter.com/qavj6iJHmX
As ever, Solskjaer remains firmly under the microscope. United’s mixed form in the league this season was held in contrast to the outstanding Champions League performances against PSG and RB Leipzig but if the shock away defeat to Istanbul removed the sheen of goodwill from those wins, another home loss might erase it entirely.
The Norwegian is a solid motivator and is clearly valued by his playing staff but questions do remain about his ability to produce results outside of the context of direct, counter-attack football.
Istanbul Basaksehir will sit deep in Old Trafford, their defenders practically lining up in the pitchside seats still empty owing to the ravages of a pandemic and it will be up to Manchester United to break down what will be a fiercely motivated Turkish side looking for an historic double over the former holders in what is their maiden Champions League group stage.
Not only is it crucial that Manchester United avoid what would be a fourth defeat in five games to Turkish opposition in the Champions League for the sake of their progression to the knockout stages, it likely has larger implications for the club’s under-fire coaching ticket.
Elsewhere in Group H, Paris Saint-Germain will welcome RB Leipzig to the French capital in what is a must-win encounter for the Ligue 1 champions. A win for Thomas Tuchel’s men will move them ahead of the German side on goal difference in the keenly-poised group.