LASK Linz have been one of the Europa League's surprise packages, and Kevin Hatchard thinks they can fully test the Manchester United rearguard...
"LASK have some key defenders missing, but they also pose a significant threat in attack."
LASK Linz v Manchester United
Thursday 12 March, 17:55
Live on BT Sport 2
LASK have earned their big moment
While there is something incredibly sad about LASK Linz having to play one of the biggest games of their history behind closed doors (of course, fans' safety is of paramount importance), at least the glare of the spotlight will still be on a team that is doing remarkable things at home and abroad. LASK are challenging the stranglehold of perennial champions RB Salzburg (they are currently top of the table, and recently won in Salzburg), and they dumped out a very good AZ team in the previous round of the Europa League.
LASK's success has been a huge boost for the reputation of coach Valerien Ismael. An uncompromising centre-back in his playing days, Ismael had a tough spell at coach of Wolfsburg and then fell out with the president at Greek club Apollon Smyrnis, but the Frenchman has thrived since replacing Oliver Glasner.
LASK's home displays have been very good in the UEL. They won all three of their group games on home soil, thrashing PSV 4-1 and sweeping aside Sporting 3-0. 21-year-old forward Marko Raguz has really caught the eye, scoring all three of his team's goals in the tie with AZ. Goakeeper Alexander Schlager is excellent, but the defence in front of him will be disrupted by some key players being absent. Petar Filipovic and Philipp Wiesinger are both suspended. Left-back Marvin Potzmann is injured.
Derby win shows United are on the up
While Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won't convince all of his critics until he wins a trophy and/or qualifies for next season's Champions League, the fact that his team has now won three Manchester derbies in one campaign is doing his case no harm. United have put together a sequence of ten games without defeat, winning seven and drawing three.
The ferocity of the roar that accompanied Scott McTominay's long-range strike in the 2-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday suggests that United fans are starting to believe in their manager, if not the people above him in the power structure.
The arrival of all-action midfielder Bruno Fernandes has provided a timely boost, especially in the continued absence of Paul Pogba. The left-field acquisition of Odion Igahlo may not be a long-term solution, but the former Watford striker has scored three goals in his last four appearances.
Marcus Rashford is still alongside Pogba on the sidelines, but Solskjaer has plenty of options in attack. Mason Greenwood has sparkled a few times in this competition, Ighalo is on form, and Anthony Martial has scored in four of his last six appearances.
LASK no pushovers
I'm a little surprised that United are as short as [1.99] to win this game, despite their excellent form. LASK have shown they can consistently raise their game against sides with more European experience, and their excellence in the Austrian Bundesliga means they are used to winning.
United have won just one of their four away games in the competition, so I can't get on board with backing them at odds-on here. That said, the absences in the LASK defence mean I'm not totally confident backing them either.
Defensive gaps suggest there'll be excitement
LASK average more than two goals a game domestically, and in the Europa League they have scored at least twice in their last three home matches.
The form tells you that United's UEL games away from home don't tend to be full of goals, but their 1-1 draw at Club Brugge was full of chances. LASK provide a step up from the sides United faced in the group stage, and I think they'll struggle to contain LASK for the whole 90 minutes. The fact that LASK have two key defenders out should also give United room to make chances.
I'll back Over 2.5 Goals here at a hefty [2.32]. If you simply want to back Both Teams To Score, then go for that at [2.04].
2019-20 Europa League Knockout Stage P/L
Points Staked: 15
Points Returned: 11.87
P/L: -3.13 points
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Back Over 2.5 Goals at [2.32]