Manchester United may have hit the top of the Premier League at the weekend, but they find themselves desperately needing to open their account on the European stage as Wolfsburg head to Old Trafford for an intriguing match-up.
It was a night where nothing went the way of Louis van Gaal’s men, as they lost their first Group B encounter away to PSV Eindhoven. On top of losing Luke Shaw to an injury which will keep him out for much of the season, they gained little reward for dominating the majority of proceedings and came away with nothing after taking the lead through Memphis Depay. How United were made to pay for being caught out on the counter-attack.
While that was a pleasing performance, this is realistically a game that they must win to avoid facing a major struggle to reach the knockout stages of the competition. Wolfsburg won their opening match comfortably against CSKA Moscow, so a draw for them would be ideal in comparison and with that in mind they will be intent on giving little away to their illustrious hosts, despite being a very open and attacking outfit.
And with United very much among the goals, there is extra reason for the German club to keep things tight. The pace of Depay and Anthony Martial will undoubtedly cause problems, while the contribution of Juan Mata – which always seems to escape attention – has been critical to the club’s rise to the top of the Premier League. Many will say with justification that performances are still not befitting of leaders or indeed title contenders, but that will matter little to van Gaal.
It was a criticism that was again levelled at them in some quarters after they eased to victory over lowly Sunderland on Saturday. In spite of the 3-0 score-line, it was still not the kind of exhilarating showing that many expect. Indeed, it was rather soporific stuff until Depay broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time, a moment which really changed the dynamic of the game.
Wolfsburg were excellent all round last term, finishing second in the Bundesliga to secure their place in the Champions League, although the man who inspired much of that has now left. Without Kevin de Bruyne, the club sit fourth in their table after seven league outings, the last two of which have seen them blown away by Robert Lewandowski at Bayern Munich and then only manage a draw at home to winless Hannover.
Shaw is joined on the Man Utd injury list by Marcos Rojo, but otherwise they have a fully-fit squad. Among those pushing for a recall is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who will relish an encounter with one of his old foes.