Gibson: 'Granada will play like the away team'
Former Manchester United striker Terry Gibson was a welcome guest on this week's episode of the MUTV Group Chat and provided detailed insight into Thursday night's opponents, Granada.
The La Liga expert and former Red warned United not to underestimate the strength of a side who have consistently defied expectations over the last two seasons.
"United can't afford to take them lightly," Gibson insisted. "They're going to play like an away team at home. They'll look to play on the counter-attack, which they're good at."
Although United have endured some tough ties against Spanish opposition in the last decade, the Reds comfortably dispatched Granada's La Liga competitors Real Sociedad in the round of 32.
Gibson described La Real as "naïve" in their approach and backed Granada not to make the same mistakes.
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"They're a fluent team who change tactics a lot but they won't be as naïve as Real Sociedad were; they won't open up and allow themselves to be hit on the counter-attack. They'll look to keep it nice and tight and hope to be in the tie for the second leg.
“It's a dream tie for Granada, it's clearly the biggest game in the history of the club. This is their second season back in La Liga. They were kind of like a Sheffield United last season in that they were a massive surprise. They've gone down, come back up and finished seventh, and qualified for Europe.”
The comparison to Sheffield United is an interesting one. The Blades had a fantastic run last season before dropping off while Granada held out and have done well again this campaign. Los Nazaries currently sit ninth in La Liga and completed a memorable and unlikely victory against Napoli in the Europa League.
However, Granada share some of the same problems as Sheffield United in terms of squad depth.
"This is their 17th Europa League game this season because had to go through the qualifying process," Gibson explained.
"It's a small squad, this is their 48th game of the season and I'm not sure whether their focus at the moment is purely on the Europa League - because their league form has suffered - or whether they're knackered."
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Asked to name the side's stand-out players, Gibson provided a list including former and potential future Premier League stars.
"Roberto Soldado [the 35-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur striker] has been terrific. He pins central defenders, uses his body well and if you give him half a chance in the box, he's shown he can take it.
“Antonio Puertas and Darwin Machís, the two wide players, can cause problems.
“The goalkeeper, Rui Silva, is in the Portuguese squad. He's a really good goalkeeper. The centre-back, likewise, is a Portuguese international: Domingos Duarte. A few English clubs have rung me to ask me what I think about him recently. He's been faultless.
“He doesn't make mistakes, he's good in the air and he looks like a player who could play at a higher level. I wouldn't be surprised if Duarte is playing for a bigger club next season, and possibly in the Premier League.”
Gibson expects Granada to set up in a 4-5-1 formation on Thursday night.
"They can also play 4-3-3 or three-at-the-back but whatever system they play, it looks like players understand it because of the organisation and coaching skills of Diego Martinez [the manager]. I don't think there are many managers who can change tactics on a regular basis and the team still look organised, but his team do.
“I think United will win 2-1. The second leg will still be up for grabs but it'll be tough for United. United would have to play well below par in both games [to go out] and it would be a massive surprise."
Off the back of Gibson's insight, the other members of the Group Chat all predicted away wins for United with Ben Thornley and David May going for 2-0 and Wes Brown and Danny Webber backing a 1-0 victory.
“Anything other than good performances by United and it will be a complicated tie," Gibson concluded, "but I do genuinely believe that, if United play at their normal level, they should have far too much for Granada.”