Manchester United trained under the heaviest of grey Mancunian skies on Monday afternoon, the weather mirroring the mood among fans after four defeats in their opening seven Premier League games, the latest being the most disappointing, at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
United are 10th in the table and a long shot for even entering a title race, let alone winning a first one in 11 years. On Tuesday, United play the third of four home games in the space of 11 days, a Champions League tie against in-form Turkish champions Galatasaray, who have won six of their seven league games and drew their first Champions League group game 2-2 at home against FC Copenhagen.
Both Galatasaray goals came in the final four minutes of the game as they chased a result against the 10-man Danes. Late goals have been a trend for Galatasaray in Europe this season.
Winger Antony is available for selection for United, while defender Lisandro Martinez will have further surgery on his injured foot. United still have extensive injury problems but need a win, with manager Erik ten Hag saying: “Top football is always about the result. If the execution and process is not right then you don’t go to win.”
United’s has been far from right recently, with only seven goals from seven league games, three of those against Nottingham Forest. United also scored three goals in their opening Champions League tie in Munich, a 4-3 defeat to Bayern.
Another loss is unthinkable, yet United won’t do what they did when the teams first met in 1993 - underestimate their Turkish opponents. Then, United surged into an early 2-0 lead before quickly finding themselves 3-2 down before salvaging a 3-3 draw. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he was in shock afterwards.
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Now, Ten Hag and his staff have done extensive preparation for Galatasaray. They know all about their top players, notably number nine Mauro Icardi, their star centre-forward and hero of the fans. Icardi is still only 30, but a well known and controversial name since his teens when he was fought over by Barcelona and Real Madrid.
He went to Sampdoria before successful spells at Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, from where he left for Turkey a year ago after a succession of injuries. He scored 23 goals last season and is already on 10 this term.
Galatasaray have other notable forwards. Hakim Ziyech, another 30-year-old, is getting back to fitness after his loan move from Chelsea. Wilfried Zaha, also 30, is settling in after his summer transfer from Crystal Palace. Dries Mertens isn’t 30, but Ten Hag mentioned the 35-year-old Belgian forward whom he knows well after his spells in the Netherlands before he became a mainstay at Napoli.
Over 3,000 Galatasaray fans are expected to be inside Old Trafford. As ever, they’ll be among the loudest fans in football. But unlike their arch-rivals Fenerbahce who were the first ever team to win a European game at Old Trafford, Galatasary have never won there.
United qualified automatically for the group stage this time round, Galatasaray needed to eliminate Norwegian side Molde and they triumphed 3-2 in Norway, with a winner in the 93rd minute. Another 93rd minute goal in the second leg ensured a 2-1 win in Istanbul. Icardi scored in both legs for the side managed by former player Okan Buruk, who was in charge of Istanbul Basaksehir when they defeated United in 2020.
Before Molde, the Turkish giants defeated Lithuanian team Zalgiris 3-2 on aggregate in the second qualifying round and then Slovenian champions Olimpija Ljubljana 4-0 over two legs in the third qualifying round.
United, therefore, need goals, with Marcus Rashford only managing one so far this season.
“He had five or six chances against Brighton,” said Ten Hag. “If he works hard and the team around him supply and support him with movements then he will come. Rashford is capable of scoring in every game. When he comes in the right spots he will score.”
Defender Raphael Varane said of the current poor form: “It’s about details. We have to be more efficient in front of goal. We need to create a lot to score. We have a team with quality and good mentality but it has not been the start to the season that we expect.”
Asked if United can win this competition, something fans simply don’t expect, Varane stayed positive as he said: “Yes I think so. The quality is in the squad. This competition you have to take care of every detail - a good mentality. We have to make some improvements, [it has not been] the start we expected. We have the ability to compete with the best teams in the world.”
“It’s not only highlights,” said Ten Hag when talking about players experiencing difficult times during their careers. “It’s a journey.”
It has been a bumpy one for United so far this season.