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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Tom Victor

Neil Lennon and Omonia's familiar faces eyeing historic Man Utd Europa League scalp

After a win and a defeat from their first two Europa League games, Manchester United's campaign continues with a double-header against Cypriot side Omonia.

The Nicosia-based club qualified for Europe after winning their domestic cup, beating Ethnikos in the final. After two defeats from two, they will be looking to get off the mark against a United side coming off a victory over Sheriff and a defeat at home to Real Sociedad.

When Erik ten Hag's side take to the field, though, there will be plenty of familiar faces in attendance. Chief among them will be Neil Lennon, the former Northern Ireland midfielder who joined the club after two spells in charge of Celtic.

Lennon arrived in Cyprus back in March, replacing former United defender Henning Berg at the helm. Berg had left with Omonia unable to qualify for Europe through their league position, but they were still very much alive in the cup.

"I did a bit of research on it, spoke to representatives of the club, the president and had a look at some of the recent games," Lennon told talkSPORT upon taking the job. "I have to say I was quite impressed by the standard and attitude of the players.

"They are the current champions but haven't had a great season this year but are still in the cup competition which we obviously want to try and progress in. That's the target now, finish the season well and try and win a trophy.

The quarter-finals were a close-run thing, with Omonia needing away goals to progress. After defeating Anorthosis Famagusta in the semis, another close game awaited in the final, and tensions boiled over to the point that Lennon was sent off.

His team still prevailed on penalties, though, earning a spot in qualifying for the Europa League. And, after beating Gent home and away in the play-off round, they booked their place in the group stage.

How many points will Omonia take off Man Utd? Have your say in the comments section

Neil Lennon's Omonia have lost their first two Europa League group games (Getty Images)

"You always have reservations about any of these things but I always fancied the opportunity to work abroad," said Lennon, whose second stint as Celtic boss ended in 2021. "I think it will be a nice climate change but that is not the be-all and end-all. I think more than anything it is a nice challenge and one that really appeals to me.

He has looked for a fair few home comforts since taking charge, though, not least in his transfer policy. This summer was his first window in which to make new signings, and he has been reunited with a number of familiar faces.

There were a couple of players already at the club whose names might be familiar to English football fans. United States international Mix Diskerud will be eager to feature on Thursday after spending time on Manchester City's books, while defender Adam Lang was part of the Hungary side which put four past England over the summer.

Former Celtic right-back Adam Matthews has been reunited with Neil Lennon (REUTERS)

This summer, though, they were joined by some figures from Lennon's past. Among them is Gary Hooper, a Champions League goalscorer with Celtic and Premier League regular with Norwich City, who has returned to Europe after stints in New Zealand and India.

The 34-year-old has been joined by Adam Matthews, one of his teammates at Parkhead. Welsh right-back Matthews spent the last three seasons at Charlton Athletic, having also been part of Sunderland's squad when they were last in the Premier League.

Completing the trio of Lennon reunions was Brandon Barker. The former Manchester City youngster played under the Northern Irish manager at Hibernian during a loan move from City, and had most recently been on the books of Reading.

There are also a couple of former Nottingham Forest men on Omonia's books. Fouad Bachirou spent just one season with the English club, while Karim Ansarifard - a member of Iran's 2018 World Cup squad - made his debut this season after joining from AEK Athens over the summer.

Omonia have scored just once in their two group games (REUTERS)

Omonia got off to the worst possible start in their Europa League opener, falling behind to Sheriff inside two minutes and going on to lose 3-0. They gave a better account of themselves against Real Sociedad, where the hosts needed a late Alexander Sorloth goal to claim a 2-1 win at Anoeta.

Their start to the league season has been mixed, though, with three wins and two defeats from their first five outings. Lennon has been in the thick of things, too, with the manager questioning a journalist after a recent loss against Apollon Limassol.

"Don't you criticise my players. You don't have the right to do that," the manager said. "That is your opinion. You are entitled to it but don't ask me about the character of my players. Ever.

"These players give me everything. They've had a bad night tonight but don't you sit there and criticise them for lacking character. That is one thing they don't.

"They didn't play well tonight. I will deal with it as best I can. But I am not having people like you questioning their backbone. Who do you think you are?"

Against United, though, Lennon will be hoping it's what his team does on the pitch that dominates the post-match discussions. Last season, Omonia failed to win any of their group games in the Europa Conference League, so the bar for improvement is low, and the manager won't be the only one hoping to show what this team can do.

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