Manchester United will bid to formalise their spot in the Europa League quarter-finals when they take on Real Betis at the Benito Villamarín Stadium on Thursday night.
Manuel Pellegrini’s high-flying Los Verdiblancos came crashing down after their impressive four-game unbeaten run ended abruptly in a 4-1 drubbing at Old Trafford in last week’s reverse fixture.
Marcus Rashford and Ayoze Perez cancelled each other out in the first half, but the Red Devils turned up the heat in the second period as goals from Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst put the Spaniards to the sword.
Defeat at the Theatre of Dreams was sandwiched in between a pair of La Liga stalemates against Real Madrid and Villarreal for Pellegrini’s side.
Borja Iglesias grabbed a first-half opener for Los Verdiblancos, but they were pegged back by Yeremy Pino’s second-half strike in the 1-1 draw at the weekend.
Betis are fifth in the table but within touching distance of the Champions League places, with only three points separating them from fourth-placed Real Sociedad.
The Spanish outfit need nothing short of a miracle to surge past United and into the next round.
However, history could offer Pellegrini’s side a glimmer of hope as they are set to welcome an English side to Spain in a European contest for the first time since November 2005, when they beat Chelsea 1-0 in the Champions League group stage.
Having delivered a perfect response to the humiliation at Anfield, United failed to build on their success in Europe as they were held to a thrilling goalless draw at home to relegation-threatened Southampton.
What seemed like a fairly straightforward encounter soon became complicated when Casemiro was shown a straight red for a dangerous tackle on Carlos Alcaraz.
An end-to-end contest ensued as both sides went for the jugular, striking the frame of the post three times in total, but the net would not ripple, resulting in a frustrating but fair share of the spoils.
United have been left behind in the race for the Premier League crown, having been previously considered outside challengers. But success on the European stage is still on the cards for Erik ten Hag’s ambitious side.
With one foot in the quarter-final, United will be looking to finish the job on their travels and continue their impressive record of progressing from every Europa League last-16 tie after winning the first leg.
Betis have never progressed beyond the last 16 stage of the Europa League, and it looks like the hoodoo is set to continue having won just one of their last seven home matches ahead of Thursday’s encounter.
They need to overturn a three-goal deficit to make it to the quarter-finals, and while it seems a daunting task, it is not entirely impossible.
During the 2013/14 Europa League quarter-finals, Valencia suffered a 3-0 defeat to Basel in the first leg before turning the tie on its head with a 5-0 second-leg success – no other team has recovered from a three-goal deficit to progress from a knockout match in the competition’s history.
However, Betis have only progressed from one of their previous six major European ties when they have lost the first leg after overcoming a 1-0 first-leg defeat to Vejle BK in the first round of the 1998/99 UEFA Cup to win 5-1 in the second leg.
Winning just two of their last six away games does not bode all that well for Ten Hag’s side, but United are unbeaten in their last four European contests in Spain (W2, D2), and avoiding defeat will be enough to earn a spot in the quarter-final.
Marcus Rashford has scored 24 goals in major European competitions for United. Another strike will see him become only the sixth player to net 25 times for the Red Devils and the youngest player to reach the milestone for the club and in the history of the major European competitions.
Real Betis vs Manchester United Potential Line-ups
Real Betis (4-2-3-1): Claudio Bravo; Youssouf Sabaly, German Pezzella, Victor Ruiz, Juan Miranda; William Carvalho, Guido Rodriguez; Sergio Canales, Ayoze Perez, Juanmi; Borja Iglesias.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia; Casemiro, Fred; Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho; Marcus Rashford.
How to Watch?
Betis vs Man United, alongside all other Europa League matches this season, is available to watch online via Europa League live streams.
Real Betis vs Manchester United Prediction
Having established a comfortable first-leg lead, Ten Hag’s side should have no problems finishing the job in Spain.
Real Betis 1-2 Manchester United (Agg: 6-2)
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