Big Midweek: Man Utd v Bayern Munich, Newcastle, Jack Grealish, Rangers

Ian Watson
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, Newcastle forward Anthony Gordon, Manchester City winger Jack Grealish.
A huge week in Europe for Erik ten Hag, Newcastle and Jack Grealish.

Manchester United continue on their doom cycle when they defend their slim Champions League prospects against Bayern, while knackered Newcastle are in a similar predicament…


Game to watch – Manchester United v Bayern Munich
United marked the 10th birthday of their banter era in fittingly-awful fashion on Saturday. On Tuesday, they face Bayern needing a win and other results to go their way to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage. Really, though…what’s the point?

Given how consistently inconsistent they are, it would not be a huge surprise to see the Red Devils cobble together some cohesiveness and beat the already-qualified Bavarians. Then they’ll go to Anfield and have their arses handed to them.

This United do only moments, not momentum. Even if everything goes their way on Tuesday night and somehow they scrape into the last 16, there isn’t enough time between now and February for Erik ten Hag to mould them into a side capable of troubling the contenders.

Bayern might be ideal opponents. They will dominate possession and perhaps allow United to counter – seemingly the only way they know how to play. Bayern also had a wretched weekend, losing 5-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt. But that was an anomaly. The only thing vaguely surprising about United’s battering by Bournemouth was that it wasn’t.

At least United’s inconsistency – they have won 11, lost 11 this season – keeps them interesting as the doom cycle continues to turn.

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Team to watch – Newcastle
Likewise, Newcastle are seeking snookers on the last matchday of the group of death as Eddie Howe looks to resuscitate his ailing side’s season.

Since swarming all over Manchester United 10 days ago, the Magpies have looked absolutely shot. They have conceded seven at Everton and Tottenham, replying only once in added time when Spurs had switched off.

Apparently, Newcastle are knackered. They have some mitigation in terms of injuries, but they certainly are not alone in having a lengthy queue outside their treatment room. If they are to establish themselves as mainstays in European competition, then they need to deal with the workload.

The clash with AC Milan, which ought to prompt a similarly ferocious atmosphere as PSG encountered on matchday two, can go one of three ways for Newcastle. They could qualify for the last 16 if they win and PSG fail to beat Dortmund. Should PSG triumph in Germany, Newcastle could take the consolation of a Europa League place with a win or a draw of their own. If they suffer a third-straight defeat to the Rossoneri, their European campaign is over.


Player to watch – Jack Grealish
In contrast to Manchester United and Newcastle, Manchester City and Arsenal have little to play for this week. Both go into the final matchday assured of top spot in their groups, free-ing up Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta to experiment and tinker.

One area Guardiola might struggle to rotate is his left flank. Jeremy Doku has played there for much of the season but the Belgium winger is currently sidelined, forcing Pep to play his £100million man. At Luton, Grealish made only his fourth start of the Premier League season, his first since the Manchester derby on October 29, as he began his fight to regain his place.

Scoring the winning goal was a good start but, as always, Guardiola wasn’t satisfied. The manager again couldn’t wait to get into the dressing room to begin his debrief and Grealish was his first target. “I said he has to win game – he has to. We talked about that.”

Grealish will likely get the chance to do just that in Bosnia where City face Red Star Belgrade, the Group G bottom-dwellers already relatively sure of their fate. The England star faces something of a dilemma. He spent much of last season showing Guardiola that he can be a cog in City’s machine but Doku has waltzed in and offered some chaos where Grealish brought order, against many of his natural instincts. With Doku back shortly, can Grealish prove he can do both?


Manager to watch – Philippe Clement
City’s group and the lack of jeopardy around the final matchday is more typical than the intrigue around Manchester United and Newcastle’s predicament. Even in the Europa League, Liverpool, Brighton and West Ham are all assured of their place in knockout stages, even if there remains some jostling for position.

For Rangers, though, it’s all on the line when they go to table-toppers Real Betis. They could top Group C; retain their second place and face a Champions League tumbler in a play-off; or slip to third behind Sparta Prague and fall into the Europa Conference League play-off.

To spare the anxiety of any play-off, Clement will need to inspire Rangers to their first ever win in Spain. The Gers are already having a good week after closing the gap on Celtic at the top of the SPL, but going to Seville and beating Betis would be a landmark achievement.

Clement can take encouragement from the fact his side have already beaten Betis this season, even if he wasn’t in charge. Betis are also suffering an injury crisis with Manuel Pellegrini without half a dozen key players: Nabil Fekir, William Carvalho, Claudio Bravo, Marc Bartra and Youssouf Sabaly are injured while Guido Rodriguez is suspended. The Spaniards still held Real Madrid at the weekend and Clement is expected to remain cautious but this could be a good time for Rangers to end their Spanish hoodoo.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement.

EFL game to watch – Sunderland v Leeds
The Black Cats were the team to watch at the weekend when they began the post-Tony Mowbray era with a win over West Brom. They are no nearer appointing a permanent boss, but Sunderland will be looking to leapfrog the fifth-placed Baggies in midweek to creep closer to Tuesday night’s visitors to the Stadium of Light.

Leeds are sat in third, seven points behind the top two, but they are in fine form. They are unbeaten in seven and have won their last three, most recently at Blackburn on Saturday lunchtime. Daniel Farke’s men are building up a head of steam – no easy feat in the Championship.

Elsewhere, it’s a biggie for Wayne Rooney as his struggling Birmingham side go to play-off contenders Cardiff on Wednesday, when Boro look to move from mid-table to play-off contention by drawing level on points with visitors Hull, four places above them.