Astana v Manchester United: With the pressure off, the kids can play
Manchester United are already through to the knockout phase, and Kevin Hatchard believes a young side can enjoy themselves in Kazakhstan.
Astana v Manchester United Thursday 28 November, 15:50 Live on BT Sport 2
Ailing Astana hoping to enjoy their big night
Having dominated Kazakh football in recent seasons, Astana have usually done fairly well on the Europa League stage, and they certainly haven't disgraced themselves in exalted company. This season has been somewhat different - Astana have lost all four of their matches, and they were humiliated by a young and vibrant AZ team, losing 6-0 and 5-0.
It's worth noting that Astana are in a very tight title race in Kazakhstan (they are just a point ahead of Kairat and four clear of Ordabasy with 33 rounds of matches gone) and although facing one of the world's biggest clubs is a huge occasion for a side that has only existed since 2009, one wonders whether a full-strength team will be deployed for what is a dead rubber.
Astana have a decent home record in this competition though, and their 3-0 win over BATE Borisov in the August qualifiers caught the eye. Last season, they beat Rennes, Jablonec and APOEL.
Youthful United hoping to forget Premier League woes
It seems that Manchester United continue to find new ways to alarm and disappoint their supporters. After a truly wretched first-half display at Sheffield United at the weekend, United turned the Premier League match around with a quick-fire triple, only to concede a last-gasp equaliser in an extraordinary 3-3 draw. This fragility is nothing new under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but the club maintains that it is on an important journey, giving youngsters experience as the Red Devils rebuild for the future.
That sharpening of young talent will continue on Thursday, as United make the long trip to Kazakhstan. Solskjaer's side has rarely sparkled in this competition, although they did sweep away Partizan 3-0 on Matchday Four at Old Trafford. Among the United squad is Max Taylor, a 19-year-old defender who is now back playing after receiving cancer treatment. His selection is apt reward for the fortitude he has shown.
United have already qualified for the knockout phase, so don't expect anything resembling a full-strength side here. Solskjaer has brought a clutch of promising youngsters to Kazakhstan, and there could be a host of first-team debuts. The excellent Mason Greenwood is likely to lead the attack - the 18-year-old has scored five goals in all competitions this season, and he found the net at Bramall Lane.
Tempting to back United, but will the kids click?
United are likely to field a young side, and although AZ twice destroyed Astana, they are a settled team that is also performing consistently on the domestic stage. Given Astana's form in this group stage, I can understand those who would back United to win at 2.44, but with so many potential first-team debuts on the horizon, it's not a bet I could recommend with confidence.
Greenwood to shine in a goalfest
Although I can't quite back United to win here, I do think we'll see goals in an entertaining game with little pressure on either team. Six of Astana's last seven home games in this competition have featured at least three goals, and they have scored at least once in 13 of their last 15 home matches in the UEL.
United should have plenty of chances to score too, and I'll back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.75.
I also think that Mason Greenwood, who scored the winner in the reverse fixture, will find the net. He's trading at 2.96to score.