Manchester United will travel to RB Leipzig for Tuesday’s Champions League match confident they can reach the knockout stages but knowing they have made life unnecessarily hard for themselves.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team looked certain to ease out of the group phase after an impressive win at Paris Saint-Germain followed by a 5-0 hammering of RB Leipzig at home.
But a shock defeat away to Istanbul Basaksehir threw Group H wide open and last week’s home reverse against PSG leaves the French champions, United and Leipzig locked together on nine points.
United need just a draw at the home of the German team, who are third in the Bundesliga. That would take them through on the basis of a superior head-to-head record.
The three-time European champions can take heart from their striking away form this season, with the exception of their ill-fated trip to Turkey.
They have won all five of their Premier League away games, taking their total of consecutive league wins on the road to a club-record nine.
But United, desperate to re-establish themselves among the European elite, have also made a habit of getting themselves into difficulty — they have trailed in every away game in the top-flight this season.
Saturday’s match at West Ham was no different. Solskjaer’s men were 1-0 down at half-time and could have been further behind before a stirring second-half comeback.
Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford all scored in a 3-1 win at the London Stadium that took the team, at least temporarily, into the top four of the Premier League.
“The boys now have the belief and the confidence that we can turn things around,” said Solskjaer. “You don’t panic.
“Yeah, we were under pressure before half-time, and half-time came at a good time for us. We had to clear our heads and go again. We’ve done it too often now to be a coincidence, those comebacks.
“It’s in these boys and in this badge. Of course you are very happy with the away form and how we’re performing.”
United have enviable firepower in their ranks and can be devastating on the break but the feeling remains that they are rarely in total control of their destiny.
The Norwegian boss has a decision to make in midfield, with Fred absent after a red card in the defeat to PSG.
Bruno Fernandes is the key man creatively, as he showed again at West Ham, creating eight chances after coming on at half-time.
Does Solskjaer stick with Pogba, who has been a peripheral player this season? Does he throw in Nemanja Matic alongside Scott McTominay to give greater defensive ballast? Or can he find room for all three?
There are also potential issues up front, with both Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani withdrawn during the West Ham victory with niggles.
Leipzig, last season’s Champions League semi-finalists, will likely need to win to progress from Group H, because PSG are expected to beat Basaksehir. That could play into United’s hands, giving them space to exploit.
But they cannot afford to produce a display as limp and disjointed as they did in the first half against West Ham.
McTominay said it was important to put last month’s hammering of Leipzig out of their minds.
“The result at home is completely out of the equation now,” the Scotland midfielder told MUTV.
“We forget about that. It’s a game where we have to go and win. It’s a game where you can’t just go there and play for a point. You have to go and approach it like you want to win that football match and that’s definitely what we’re going to do.”