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FC Midtjylland with a chance of shocking Manchester United

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal cannot afford another slip-up against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League round of 32 on Thursday evening.

Midtjylland will arrive at Old Trafford with a deserved 2-1 advantage from last week's first leg, knowing they are facing a club with serious headaches, namely Van Gaal's stultifying style of play and question marks over his future as manager, with Jose Mourinho looming. Speculation over Van Gaal's job prospects at United have intensified from late November onwards, with just six wins in 19 matches in all competitions.

The mood in Denmark, meanwhile, is positive following Midtjylland's first leg victory. Before their triumph, many observers viewed the tie as a great experience against a renowned club but the mood has shifted. Football experts in the country have realised the extent of United's issues and believe Van Gaal's men are vulnerable, despite their tag as favourites.

Benjamin Munk Lund, sports editor of Danish newspaper BT, told ESPN FC: "Expectations have grown since the first game. Beforehand, it was a huge thing that a Danish club would face United in the knockout stages of Europa League.

"It is even bigger now, like a big match involving the national team. Old Trafford is seen as a daunting venue to enter; one of the most thrilling and magical places in the world of football.

"To all players, it will be extraordinary to play there. It is no longer just a great experience for the players -- it is a game in which a result is being chased.

"The first game in Herning showed everyone in Denmark that the crisis at United is deep and that Midtjylland have a fair chance.

"Having said that, no one talks about Midtjylland as being favourites -- the away goal scored by United could end up having a major impact on the final result.

"The feeling in Denmark is that United are still the big favourites. To put it into percentages I would say it is 80-20 in the favour of United."

Fans in Denmark have seen United sides deliver sub-standard displays in previous years against their clubs.

FC Copenhagen stunned Sir Alex Ferguson's men in the Champions League group stages back in 2006 courtesy of a Marcus Allback-inspired 1-0 win while Aalborg claimed a credible 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in 2009, with goals from Michael Jakobsen and Jeppe Curth even handing them a 2-1 lead at one point before Wayne Rooney struck to secure a draw.

Despite form for struggling against Danish teams, the debacle in Midtjylland came as a surprise to many.

Michael Carrick
Manchester United have a 2-1 deficit to turn around following a shock defeat last Thursday.

Danish football journalist Troels Bager Thogersen said: "United's performance was shocking, and definitely affects expectations before the second leg.

"Danish football fans are well-aware of the struggles this season under Van Gaal but to see them dominated by Midtjylland, who hadn't played a competitive match for two months and were missing their midfield general Jakob Poulsen, was very unexpected.

"The consensus here in Denmark is that Midtjylland should've pushed even harder in the second half. They ought to have got a third goal against the weakest United team we've seen since Ferguson's worst periods in the late 1980s."

United hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who scored their winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich, says Midtjylland need to avoid acting like tourists when they go to Old Trafford.

Thogersen, meanwhile, says he does not expect them to be awestruck sightseers.

He added: "Midtjylland were not outstanding in Herning. We've seen them play better. They will try to grab a goal through a counter attack or one of their famed set pieces.

"I still think United should go through. They looked better in their FA Cup win against Shrewsbury. But don't expect Midtjylland and their players to go out gently."

Arindam is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him @ARejSport

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