Big Midweek: Bayern v Man Utd, Tonali and Toon in Milan, Brighton and Liverpool in Europa

Ian Watson
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag; a Sandro Tonali banner; and Brighton before their win at Old Trafford.
It's a Big Midweek for Sandro Tonali, Brighton and Erik ten Hag.

Back in the Champions League, Manchester United need a big result at Bayern Munich to avoid their crisis deepening, while Newcastle and Brighton relish their big nights in Europe…


Game to watch – Bayern Munich v Manchester United
It doesn’t get any easier for Erik ten Hag after he was made to stand and watch Brighton dismantle his side at Old Trafford on Saturday. Next up is a trip to Bayern, who have a perfect record in group stage action over the last two seasons.

Ten Hag desperately needs a positive result to change the mood around Old Trafford and avoid a deepening sense of crisis around the club. There’s little positive news around his injured contingent. One might be back – Ten Hag didn’t say who – but the trip to Munich comes too soon for most of his missing stars.

So Ten Hag will have to piece together a midfield that spent Saturday chasing Seagulls. United tried a diamond system – it did not work. Neither Scott McTominay, a possible Bayern target, or Christian Eriksen seemed to know their roles, while Casemiro was left woefully exposed and this version of the Brazilian hasn’t got the legs to cope.

Then of course, Ten Hag has to hope his back four, missing three first picks on Saturday, can cope with Harry Kane. The England striker has four goals in four games for Bayern who are averaging 2.75 goals per game so far this season, but they are hardly watertight at the back. Thomas Tuchel’s men have conceded as many as Kane has scored, including a 95th-minute leveller to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday that kept them from the Bundesliga summit.

So Bayern are beatable – but United will have to turn in the kind of performance they haven’t yet managed this season. When was the last time they played really well? They tonked Chelsea at the back end of last season, but that was Chelsea. The Barcelona/Carabao Cup final double header at the end of February?

United have to summon something, even amid all their injuries, tactical confusion, and off-field distractions, if they are to avoid continuing on their doom spiral.

READ: Man Utd and Erik ten Hag are stuck in the cul de sac of dysfunction


Player to watch – Sandro Tonali
Newcastle’s Champions League draw was a belter. Perilously tough, of course, but having worked so hard to get back among the big boys for the first time in almost two decades, better that than a group like, well, Manchester City’s.

The obvious eye-catcher was Milan, especially in the wake of Newcastle taking from the Rossoneri one of their best players – Sandro Tonali. The concern for Tonali now, though, is whether his big reunion will be spent on the bench.

Tonali, like Newcastle, started the season with a bang, scoring on his debut in a 5-1 win over Aston Villa. Then the Magpies lost three on the bounce – albeit to Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton – with Tonali struggling more with each defeat. He was sat on the bench against Brentford on Saturday but Eddie Howe described that as a ‘largely precautionary measure’.

It seems unlikely that Howe would dare to ruin Tonali’s return by leaving him out – but you could see why he might since his midfield looked as solid as it has for at least a month while beating the Bees. With Joelinton definitely out, Tonali needs to put on a show against his former side, who have assured the midfielder of a great reception. Might they kill him with kindness?


Team to watch – Brighton
Like Newcastle, Brighton’s Europa League draw set up a tantalising group, which gets underway on Thursday night with the visit of AEK Athens while Marseille and Ajax lie in wait.

Brighton have no one to fear – so far – on their first foray into Europe. Indeed, ahead of Thursday, Roberto De Zerbi was able to rotate his squad at Manchester United and still take the Red Devils to school.

“Our target now is Thursday because it will be a historic day for us. And we have to, to reach that day in the best way,” said De Zerbi, justifying selection decisions that required no justification. Brighton now have the squad not just to compete but excel on all fronts.

That’s the question now for the Seagulls: how far can they go? Is a title challenge beyond them? Possibly but, almost exactly a year to the day since De Zerbi took over from Graham Potter, a Europa League charge most certainly is not.

Roberto De Zerbi hugs Jurgen Klopp before a match.

Manager to watch – Jurgen Klopp
While Brighton relish their involvement, Liverpool are rather less arsed about the Europa League. As the marquee name in a group featuring LASK, Union Saint-Gilloise and Toulouse, the Reds can surely afford to balance the expectation with rotation.

Klopp can make the distraction work for him by using the trip to Austrian side LASK as a chance to play some fringe players, bed in some new boys, ease back some first-teamers.

The most interesting selections will likely come in midfield, with Ryan Gravenberch vying for his first start for Liverpool and Wataru Endo his second. Around them, Stefan Bajcetic and Harvey Elliott are also eager for involvement, with the former back from injury and the latter impressing in the cameos he has had to settle for so far this term.

For LASK, this is a cup final. “It’s the game of the year for every player, every employee of the club and every fan,” said captain Robert Zulj. And the Austrians are well prepared – they are unbeaten in their last eight games. Even so, Liverpool ought to be too strong, but Klopp must decide how much tinkering is too much.


EFL game to watch – Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesbrough
Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise to see the Owls flapping at the foot of the Championship, given they came up through the play-offs then spent much of the summer in managerial chaos. Boro, though, were expected to challenge for promotion, Instead, they sit at the foot of the table, winless like Wednesday.

Both meet on Tuesday night at Hillsborough where Xisco Munoz felt it necessary to apologise to home fans on Saturday after Wednesday failed to muster a shot on target in their latest defeat against Ipswich. Given Boro’s defensive woes, especially on the road – they have one clean sheet in 19 away games under Michael Carrick – they shouldn’t be an issue in midweek.

Carrick disputed after defeat at Blackburn that his side are in the midst of a crisis – “No, no way… no chance, it’s not a crisis” – but for all the belief the manager has in his side to come good, it has to happen sooner rather than later. Tuesday, ideally.