The pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need no reminders of the difficulties that lie ahead when facing Villarreal after their meeting in the Europa League final back in May.
Manchester United were seen as heavy favourites to clinch their first silverware under the Norwegian in last season’s final only to be pegged back Unai Emery’s plucky Spanish outfit.
Going into tonight’s game on a run of three defeats in four matches, the Man United players will be itching to get back to winning ways to ease the pressure on Solskjaer.
But the United boss has a number of key decisions to make ahead of the clash which could be pivotal in deciding this Champions League tie…
Protecting The Defence
The last thing Solskjaer wanted during a poor run of form is to lose two key defensive figures in Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire. But the pair look set to miss the clash after their absence from training at Carrington on Tuesday.
Solskjaer showed last season he had no qualms with using Victor Lindelof at centre-back alongside Maguire, but it would be the first time he has partnered Raphael Varane at the back.
Likewise, Alex Telles has been used predominantly as a backup option for Shaw since his arrival last summer and may have some cobwebs to shake off after making only one appearance this season in the Carabao Cup.
Missing two key components in his backline may force Solskjaer to line up with a more cautious formation in order to reduce the pressure on those coming into the side. That could mean Paul Pogba plays further forward on the left-hand side, rather than starting the double-pivot alongside Fred or Scott McTominay.
Finding a Place For Cavani
It should not be overlooked that, despite only starting 19 games for Man United last season, Edinson Cavani scored 16 goals in all competitions — including the goal in the final against Villarreal last season.
That points to the Uruguayan’s ability to score from the start, as well as impacting games from the bench, with the Red Devils needing the veteran forward to save them on a number of occasions.
The 34-year-old’s role in the side is likely to be less significant this season after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has already hit the ground running with four goals in five matches.
Solskjaer had already hinted at it in his pre-match press conference before the 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa that Cavani and Ronaldo could play together in an attacking duo and he trialled the pair in a 4-4-2 setup late on.
But it failed to provide an equaliser, although Cavani’s presence in the box helped win the penalty that Bruno Fernandes blazed over the bar in stoppage time. It remains to be seen what Solskjaer has in store for the striker, but giving Cavani and Ronaldo a chance to link up from the start against Villarreal should be a move he is considering.
Portuguese Penalty Takers
When Bruno Fernandes sent his penalty attempt flying into the stands in stoppage time against Aston Villa, it was notable that Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to console his compatriot. The pair have established a solid working relationship since Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, as shown by his goal against Young Boys on matchday one.
And that will be crucial again if United are to overcome Villarreal on Wednesday, with Fernandes and Ronaldo both likely to start. But the issue of penalty-taking remains a hot topic of discussion.
Ronaldo always wants to score as many goals as he can and putting the 36-year-old on penalty duty is almost a guarantee given his impressive record from 12 yards. But Solskjaer has said he would back Fernandes with his “mortgage” to put it right at the next attempt, having scored 21 of his 23 United penalties.
After missing his spot-kick on Saturday, there will be pressure on Fernandes to find the net next time around if the opportunity arises against Villarreal. And if he misses, there will be calls for Solskjaer to replace him with Ronaldo — perhaps from the superstar himself.