Wayne Rooney has been left out of the Manchester United squad for Thursday’s Europa League last 32 first leg against Danish champions FC Midtjylland, with the striker out with a knee injury that, some media outlets are claiming, could see him miss two months of football.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Louis van Gaal revealed that the United captain was indeed injured, as it had been reported, but did not comment on how long he would be sidelined for:
“You can never say [how long he could be out for]. He has a knee problem so we have to wait and see. “He scores a lot of goals so he is very important for us. We know that but we have to cope with that.”
Marouane Fellaini (muscle injury) and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (illness) also haven’t travelled, while Matteo Darmian is out with a dislocated shoulder. LVG has a youthful 18-man squad from which to choose from, including youngsters Donald Love and Will Keane in the squad, while Regan Poole, Joe Riley and James Weir could all be in line to make their senior debuts for the club.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Louis van Gaal to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MUTV?src=hash”>#MUTV</a>: "We have 13 players injured and Wayne Rooney is one of them." <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/mufc?src=hash”>#mufc</a></p>— Manchester United (@ManUtd) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ManUtd/status/699999528313843712″>February 17, 2016</a></blockquote>
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LVG has said that the club’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season is to win the Europa League outright, but with injuries mounting, a sustained effort both domestically and abroad is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage.
There were times when the Europa League, and the UEFA Cup before it, was deemed unworthy of a concerted effort from English football’s top clubs. “Thursday night on Channel 5”, being the derisory sentence. But with Champions League football for the season after now a prize along with the trophy, there’s every reason for the likes of United to take it seriously.
If the United are to make it into Europe’s top competition next season, they may have to ‘do a Chelsea’. The Blues crashed out of the 2012/13 Champions League, but snuck back into the next edition by beating Benfica in the Europa League final that same season.
The Premier League are also considering a cash incentive to help boost the appeal of the Europa League for clubs, with the threat of losing the fourth Champions League spot to a resurgent Serie A now a possibility. Discussions also included the idea of scrapping FA Cup replays and two legged League Cup semi-finals to ease clubs’ domestic fixture lists, which would enable more focus in Europe.
Fixture congestion is a real issue for United, with Rooney’s latest injury to make life that bit harder for the Red Devils.
Rooney has hit a good patch of form recently and has seven goals in his last nine games. His absence will not only damage the chances of a decent first leg result, but it will further irk the travelling fans who are planning to protest against the £71 ticket price imposed by the Danish side.
Southampton, who played Midtjylland in a qualifier for the tournament last year, enjoyed £22 prices for their fans.
If anything, United, along with Leicester, have been the team to place bets on this season – but for very different reasons. The Red Devils’ frustrating inconsistencies have opened up possibilities of big bucks on shock losses, and those who didn’t shell out the £71 for a ticket could be looking to give themselves a silver lining betting slip on a Midtjylland win.
The Danes are currently 17/4 for a first leg win on leading UK casino website, NetBet. This means a successful £100 bet – the price of one ticket plus a cheapp dinner out in Jutland (where the game will be played) – would yield a tidy £535.
Full back Love, who came on for the injured Matteo Darmian in the 2-1 loss to Sunderland, could be in line to start his first game, and the 21-year-old’s currently on 32/1 to score at any time with NetBets. The narrative has always driven United matches, but that would be quite something. Any takers?
Narrative did lead one United fan to a reportedly world record cash prize back in 2001, with a 30p bet on odds of 1,666,666-to-one on a 15-match accumulator across multiple sports being made by an unknown punter. That bet landed him £500,000 – and to make it even more sweet, that same man had won £157,000 two years before from a £2.50 accumulator when United won the Champions League in 1999!
United are currently second only to Borussia Dortmund on NetBet’s picks for Europa League 2015/16 winners, at 15/2, and if you’re planning to stun with a 30p bet you’ll definitely have to break out the accumulator.
For Van Gaal and his United side, a response from the weekend’s defeat is essential, regardless of personnel and ticket prices. As the top four continues to slip frustratingly away as dodgy results start to take their toll, the need to “do a Chelsea” becomes more and more pressing.
There’s your narrative, but can United pull it off?