Feyenoord v Manchester United
Friday September 16, 3:00am
After a couple of seasons that saw them lag behind other traditional Dutch powerhouses like Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord may suddenly be Eredivisie title contenders again. The Rotterdam side have won all five of their league games, scoring 15 goals and conceding just two.
Veteran Dirk Kuyt once scored a hat-trick against Manchester United when he wore the red of Liverpool (fun fact – he’s my Mum’s favourite Liverpool player of all time), and at the age of 36 he is still making an impact. Playing largely in a midfield role, he has scored three goals in five games. Perennial bad boy Eljero Elia is also buckling down, and has scored three goals, while Danish international Nicolai Jorgensen has hit the ground running since his summer move from Copenhagen.
A young defence has proved stingy so far, with former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones making the most of an injury to first-choice stopper Kenneth Vermeer.
The atmosphere at the De Kuip stadium can be helpfully raucous, and it’s been a real help to Feyenoord in fairly recent Europa League matches. A couple of seasons ago they got to the knockout rounds, and pushed Roma hard in the last 32. The Italians are the only team to beat Feyenoord at De Kuip since August 2013, and that was because Feyenoord had been reduced to nine men.
It was all going so well for Manchester United, but a humbling derby defeat at home to Pep Guardiola’s sparkling Manchester City represents the first roadblock of Jose Mourinho’s brief reign at Old Trafford. Mourinho pulled no punches, hauling Henrikh Mkhitaryan off at half-time, and accusing some of his players of failing to cope with the pressure of such an important match.
Last season Manchester United dropped into the Europa League after being humbled in the Champions League group stage, and now they are in from the group stage. It will be fascinating to see the strength of the sides Mourinho chooses to field.
He has already suggested teenage goal-getter Marcus Rashford will start, but the weekend’s underperformers like Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard are expected to warm the bench. Marquee signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba may be rested, with Chris Smalling is in line to try and prove his worth after being kept out by Daley Blind and Eric Bailly.
United are 1.90 favourites here, but much depends on the side Mourinho selects, as he approaches his first game in Europe’s second-tier tournament since the 2003 UEFA Cup final.
The Red Devils haven’t won any of their last five European matches away from home, and Feyenoord are full of confidence after a lightning fast start to the season. This game means a huge amount to Giovanni Van Bronckhorst‘s side, and if they play in the same way they have been in recent weeks, they could sneak a result here.
The bet that stands out to me is backing Marcus Rashford to score in 90 minutes at a hefty 2.56. He scored a last-gasp winner at Hull City, bagged a hat-trick for the England Under-21 side against Norway, and had a goal disallowed in the derby. He is an extraordinarily nerveless player, who rose to the occasion on Saturday as others wilted. Although Feyenoord are defending well currently, I expect Rashford to get chances, and on current form, he’ll take them.
BACK – Marcus Rashford to score at 2.58