Manchester United will be looking to secure a significant first-leg advantage on Thursday evening when they host Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, with the Spanish side looking a hint of value at 6/1 with Bet365.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be fully aware of the sloppy performance his team put in against Ajax in their last Europa League home game of course.
United lost 2-1 at Old Trafford and even though they made it through 3-2 on aggregate, it was a stark reminder of how the Premier League champions need to up their game in this competition. They have no right to beat the likes of Bilbao.
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With this in mind, you would expect a response from United in this fixture. They will want to hit the ground running and get themselves into a good position to progress to the last eight. Ferguson’s men will not want to travel to Spain needing a victory in the second-leg.
Since the last round of the Europa League, United have appeared extremely ruthless though, so many will expect this to continue. They secured a 2-1 victory over Norwich before an excellent 3-1 win at Tottenham.
This is normally the time of year that United turn on the style and they will hope this is the case on Thursday evening.
Chris Smalling, Anderson and Tom Cleverley should return for the Red Devils, while Paul Pogba is now unlikely to feature after agreeing a summer move to Juventus.
As for Bilbao, they will take heart from the victory Ajax got themselves at Old Trafford and they too have been in decent form domestically of late. The Spanish club secured a valuable 2-0 victory over Real Sociedad at the weekend and this made it four games without defeat across all competitions.
Looking at their journey in the Europa League so far this season, they moved past Lokomotiv Moskva in the last round, although away from home they have lost their last two. They will find it difficult on Thursday, no doubt about that, but they do have players who can change games and in Fernando Llorente they have one of Europe’s most formidable strikers.
Overall, it could be all about how Manchester United perform. If they turn on the style and perform to the standard Ferguson will demand, it could be a long night for Bilbao.