Manchester United will be looking to avoid an embarrassing defeat when they face Copenhagen in Cologne on Monday night in their one-off Europa League quarter-final tie.
United may be favourites to lift the trophy they first won back in 2017 but the fact that game will be played behind closed doors, at a neutral venue and over just one leg, makes an upset all the more possible.
Reds boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is aiming to win his first trophy as United boss, but having finished third in the Premier League, they have already qualified for next season’s Champions League.
“We went into this season knowing that the Europa League is a great chance for us to get a trophy, to get far in a tournament, but also to groom a few of the youngsters and it was perfect for us,” he said.
“We are in a strange period at the moment, unprecedented, we’ve got to make the most of it and if we are able to go through to the semi-final and final it would mean a lot to the club, players, supporters and staff. We just have to make the best out of a difficult situation.”
And in an added twist, the former United striker will be meeting a familiar foe in FC Copenhagen boss Stale Solbakken, having been team-mates at the 1998 World Cup.
The former Wolves boss Solbakken also allowed him to watch Copenhagen work in his previous stint at the club when Solskjaer needed some exposure for part of his Uefa Pro Licence course.
Much of the talk recently has been around Manchester United’s under-pressure goalkeeper David De Gea, who has only featured once in this competition this season, but was selected ahead of Sergio Romero for the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, when the Spain international made two mistakes in the Blues’ victory.
The Argentine has played eight times in the competition so far, including both games against LASK, and Solkskjaer appears happy for the duo, along with Dean Henderson, who spent last season on loan at Sheffield United, to fight-it-out for the number one jersey.
“I must be the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department with Sergio, David and Dean Henderson coming back,” he said.
“We have seen this season how important Sergio has been for us and, for me, David is always performing.”
United are looking to reach only their second European semi-final since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, doing so in 2016-17 when they went on to win the Europa League under Jose Mourinho.
Copenhagen overcame Istanbul Basaksehir in the last 16, recording a 3-0 second-leg win on Wednesday thanks to a couple of goals from Jonas Wind and another from Rasmus Falk.
But Solbakken is well aware of the threat posed by Monday’s opponents and believes that only perfection will be enough if his side is to defeat United, who have lost just one of their past 23 games.
“In order to beat United we have to play perfect, we need a bit of luck. We maybe need a United that doesn’t fire on all cylinders,” he told a news conference,” he said.
“We need to be perfect defensively. We need to take one or two or three chances we get during a game like this. The chances are not great, but it’s an advantage for us this is not over 180 minutes but 90 minutes.
“They have a lot of fast players, they play quickly and are good on the counterattack after Bruno Fernandes signed, and they also combine very quickly around the park. So there’s a lot to get nervous about, but we have to stick to our plan and see how far it can take us.
These two sides have only met twice before, in the 2006/07 Champions League group stages with the Red Devils winning 3-0 at Old Trafford before losing 1-0 in Copenhagen.
That was the Danish side’s only victory against an English team to date and they have failed to score in their past four games against English opponents.
However, Solkskjaer will be well aware of the threat posed by a side already preparing for the 2020/21 Danish Superliga who eliminated Celtic 4-2 on aggregate earlier in this competition.
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