Manchester United get their Europa League campaign up and running this week with a home tie against the Kazakhstan Premier League champions. As this is the first time the two teams have ever met I’d usually give a brief overview of the away team’s history, but unfortunately they have none, having only been in existence since 2009. Essentially, FC Astana are a state sponsored vanity project set up to raise the international profile of Kazakhstan and its capital city, Nur Sultan. Being by far the wealthiest club in their league Astana have hoovered up the best domestic talent and also managed to attract a number of international journeymen, with the six-foot five striker Rangelo Janga being one to keep an eye on.
After a mixed start to the season, during which the summer recruits have bedded in nicely, United will be going into this game filled with confidence after overcoming a rejuvenated Leicester side in a hard-fought victory at the weekend. Another huge boost will be the confirmation that David de Gea has put pen to paper on a deal which will keep him at Old Trafford until June 2023. Astana are also coming into this game on the back of a win after an own goal from Serbian midfielder Miloš Vidović presented them with all three points in their league match against Shakhter Karagandy on Sunday.
With key injuries and some potentially gruelling away journeys I would expect Solskjær to use this tournament to give the fringe players some much-needed game time, and who knows, maybe we’ll finally get to see the Gomes, Chong, Greenwood triumvirate the fans have been pleading for. If United do line up with an experimental formation they should still have enough to beat a well organised, but technically limited, opposition. This game cannot be taken too lightly, however, as Astana are currently three quarters of the way through a domestic season in which they are chasing down a sixth consecutive league title, although if Daniel James can continue his blistering early season form it could be a long night for the Kazakh champions.