Manchester United face FC Copenhagen in the Europa League quarter-finals, a unique one-off tie being played in Germany as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
United knocked out Austrian club LASK in the last 16, doing pretty much all the work in the first leg back in March with a 5-0 away win. That became a 7-1 aggregate win last week.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have already secured Champions League football for next season, which remains the overall prize on offer for this season’s Europa League winners, but the Norwegian is determined to cap off a transitional campaign with a first major trophy since 2017.
As 2018/19 Danish champions, Copenhagen initially started the 2019/20 European season in the Champions League qualifying rounds over a year ago last July. They started out by beating Welsh side The New Saints in the second qualifying round, before falling to Red Star Belgrade in the third.
That earned them a place in the Europa League playoff round, in which they beat Latvia’s Riga FC to qualify for the competition’s group stage.
To reach the knockout stages, Copenhagen finished second in their group behind winners Malmo. They were impressively ahead of Dynamo Kyiv and were actually unbeaten in their first five games, ultimately qualifying with nine points when Dynamo couldn’t beat Lugano at home on matchday six.
That led to a last 32 tie against Celtic in which they prevailed 4-2 on aggregate. That was largely thanks to 3-1 win in Glasgow that was sealed by two late goals.
Next up, Copenhagen knocked out new Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir in the last 16, a tie that began in March and was concluded in August. Istanbul actually led 1-0 from the first leg, but a 3-0 win for Copenhagen in Denmark turned the contest on its head.
Copenhagen are resilient and only United themselves and Sevilla conceded fewer goals in the group stage. They were also beaten only once in their six group games, with just Gent and Braga of the 48 sides taking part finishing the opening round of the competition unbeaten.
By contrast, the Danes didn’t exactly exhibit a lot of flair for goalscoring in the group stage, finding the net only five times. It was the lowest tally of any side that qualified for the knockouts.
That has changed slightly in the knockout rounds, with Copenhagen netting three in of the second legs they have played so far – obviously there won’t be a second leg in this tie. They are also capable of scoring in flourishes, with goals coming in quick succession against both Celtic and Istanbul.
Jonas Wind: He only made his Europa League debut in the last game against Istanbul after spending a number of months on the sidelines with a knee injury. But the young forward scored twice in that game and will likely pose his team’s biggest goal threat again.
Ramus Falk: A significant portion of Copenhagen’s creativity in the knockout stages has come from Falk, who got an assist in either leg against Celtic and scored against Istanbul. The 28-year-old isn’t well known outside Denmark as he has only been capped once at international level.
Viktor Fischer: Premier League fans may remember Denmark international winger Fischer from his brief stint at Middlesbrough in 2016/17. Prior to that, he had made his name at Ajax, while he has been at Copenhagen – his first professional spell at a Danish club – since 2018.
Victor Nelsson: The 21-year-old centre-back has played a key role in Copenhagen’s defensive strength in Europe this season. His performances have been more impressive given that he’s had rotating partners alongside him.
Guillermo Varela: The Uruguayan played 11 times for United between 2013 and 2017, all in the 2015/16 season under Louis van Gaal. He actually moved back to South America when he left Old Trafford but returned to Europe in 2018 when Copenhagen signed him.
Copenhagen’s coach is former Wimbledon midfielder and Wolves manager Stale Solbakken, who was also a Norway international teammate of Solskjaer in the late 1990s.
Solbakken was sacked by Wolves in 2013 after only six months and was appointed by Copenhagen later that year. He has since delivered three Danish Superliga titles and three Danish Cups.
United have only played Copenhagen twice before, with both games coming in the 2006/07 Champions League group stage.
United comfortably won 3-0 when the sides met at Old Trafford, with goals that night coming from Paul Scholes, John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson. But United were surprisingly beaten in the reverse fixture in Denmark when one-time Aston Villa flop Marcus Allback scored the only goal.
United also went on to lose to Celtic in their next group game – a famous Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick was the difference then – before later reaching the semi-finals that season.
United’s last meeting with Danish opposition in Europe came in the 2015/16 Europa League last 32 when they beat FC Midjtylland 6-3 on aggregate after a surprising loss in the first leg. The second leg saw an 18-year-old Marcus Rashford make his debut and score twice.
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