• John Gilding


The last eight teams in the Europa League are mostly the ones you’d expect to see at this stage of the competition. Two English heavyweights, one of the Spanish ‘best of the rest’, an Italian team that isn’t Inter or Juventus, a couple of Eastern European sides and Ajax. The only one that sticks out in the draw is Granada.

Ten years ago, Granada were promoted from the Spanish second division to compete in La Liga for the first time in 35 years. They stayed up, and spent the next few years fighting against relegation. In 2016, they got a new owner, and a new era beckoned, but it wasn’t to be. They went through three different managers over the course of that season, and in their last 13 games they picked up just a single point.

After the disaster of that season, Granada have turned things around, mostly under the stewardship of manager Diego Martínez. They were promoted, and in their first season back they came up with a miracle of qualifying for the Europa League.

Nobody in Spain saw that coming, and nobody in Europe thought they’d be able to pull off a run to the quarter-finals. Yet here they are, and they’ve been handed arguably the toughest draw possible. Manchester United. However, as Barcelona discovered last season, you underestimate this team at your peril. They dumped Napoli out of this competition, as well as fellow surprise package Molde.

United can expect a battle when they make the trip to southern Spain next month. Granada are an incredibly physical side, and they rack up a lot of cards. It’s not beautiful football, but it works, and it allows them to punch well above their weight (sometimes literally).

As well as their strong-arm approach, there are a few key figures in the squad that Manchester United will have to keep tabs on to avoid a slip-up en route to the final. In goal, Rui Silva has been vital to the team’s performances this season, pulling off some excellent saves to rescue his side on occasion, and throw his name into the hat to be the heir to Rui Patricio as Portugal’s choice between the sticks. Anthony Lopes of Lyon could have something to say about that, but Silva is a genuine contender.

In midfield, two names stick out on any Granada teamsheet. Yangel Herrera and Darwin Machís. Herrera, on loan from Manchester City, is the rock that the team builds play around, winning possession back and shifting the focus from defence into attack. Often, that means playing the ball to Machís, a versatile winger who can also operate in the middle. Machís is the creative spark, and often provides the pass-before-the-assist when Granada score.

Up front, Diego Martinez likes to use a strong centre-forward who doesn’t shy away from tackles and aerial duels. He has two available, in Jorge Molina who arrived on a free transfer in the summer from Getafe, and Roberto Soldado, formerly of Real Madrid. The battle between these two and United’s centre-back pairing will be crucial to whoever progresses in the competition.

United fans might have looked at the Europa League draw with eyes hungry for a hammering, but Granada will not go down easily. History proves that, and the Red Devils would do well to be wary going into this tie.