By Coral Barry
Juan Mata is the key to turning around Manchester United’s Europa League tie with Liverpool, according to Charlie Nicholas.
United welcome Liverpool to Old Trafford on Thursday in a bid to atone for their dismal 2-0 defeat at Anfield in the first leg last week.
Liverpool comfortably brushed aside a blunt United team to make them firm favourites for a quarter-final place but Nicholas believes Louis Van Gaal’s side have reasons to be hopeful of an upset.
“Liverpool will be happy to drop off, pack the midfield and squeeze when they’re in their own half and Juan Mata is the key to unlock the defence,” said Nicholas writing in his Sky Sports column.
“This tie isn’t over, but Manchester United need to start quickly and score first if they are to have any chance of progressing.”
Mata was named captain for the night in the first leg but was withdrawn with 20 minutes left as United pushed for a vital away goal that never came.
Jurgen Klopp heads to the home of Liverpool’s fiercest rivals for the first time as manager.
Liverpool were unfortunate not to snatch a bigger advantage in the first leg after a dominant display, but will be buoyed by the fact that just one away goal would kill the tie.
The previous game did not lack the flashpoints typical of this fixture as cameras picked up Marouane Fellaini’s elbow on Emre Can in the dying moments, although he was later cleared of a retrospective punishment.
United have no choice but to go out all guns blazing with Liverpool two goals to the good and Nicholas believes that the Red Devils’ aggression could have a huge impact on the outcome.
The former Arsenal forward said: “Marouane Fellaini was lucky to not be sent off in the first leg and I wouldn’t be surprised if things boil over and we get a red card here, especially if Liverpool get the away goal and United get frustrated.
“Anthony Martial is looking more dangerous and he is definitely United’s main dangerman now.
“He’s key for them to have any chance of pushing this towards extra-time, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see. I expect them to win the game, but go out.”
In other United news, Liverpool could turn to their vice-captain for the showdown on Thursday.