Manchester United return to European action this week to take on surprise package FC Rostov. It won’t be an easy match, but the English side will be considered favourites to go through to the quarter-finals of the competition. Although the Europa League lacks the prestige of the Champions League, it offers a route into Europe’s premier competition and United would be foolish not to take it seriously.
There has been an improvement under Jose Mourinho, but United are still a long way from being the team that they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. It is crucial that they return to the Champions League next season as back-to-back seasons outside of the competition will be hugely damaging to the brand. The United boss recognises this and that is why he continues to play strong sides on a Thursday night. Many consider the Red Devils to be favourites to lift the trophy in May, but it won’t easy and Rostov represent another tricky test of their ambitions.
The Russian side have been excellent in Europe this season against the odds. Last season, they managed to qualify for the Champions League, despite crippling financial problems. It was a remarkable story as they are normally a side fighting relegation rather than challenging at the top of the league. They were written off in the Champions League, but they knocked out Ajax and famously beat Bayern Munich 3-2 in the group stages. They were excellent on that day and will want to deliver a similar performance against Manchester United.
FC Rostov are battling in the top six of the Russian Premier League highlighting that last season wasn’t a fluke. They are coming into this match on the back of an unbeaten run that stretches back to the end of November. They are excellent at home and their convincing 4-0 first leg victory over Sparta Prague in the last round underlined that.
Jose Mourinho’s side haven’t lost a competitive fixture since the end of January and they will be confident of preserving that record in Russia. Their main problem has been a lack of goals as they struggle to kill matches off. In the previous round, they managed to beat Saint-Etienne relatively comfortably by a 4-0 aggregate scoreline.
The home side are unlikely to make any changes to the side that beat Tom Tomsk 6-0 at the weekend. Christian Noboa is one of the players to watch out for having starred in the last round against Sparta Prague.
Manchester United will start with a strong side in Russia, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba both likely starters. Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw haven’t travelled, therefore they won’t feature against Rostov.
FC Rostov Manchester United
The only injury concern for the Russian side is Soslan Dzanayev, who will miss out. Other than that, they will have a fully fit squad.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan could return after his hamstring injury, but he may not be risked in Russia as there are concerns about the playing surface. Eric Bailly will be suspended after being sent off in the previous round.
This won’t be an easy match for the Premier League side and they will have to guard against complacency as Rostov pose a genuine threat. They have beaten some accomplished European sides at home this season and will be looking to add the scalp of Manchester United. That said, Jose Mourinho’s side should have enough to win the match. They are now placing a lot of emphasis on the Europa League and they could come out all guns blazing in Russia.
Score prediction: FC Rostov 1-2 Manchester United
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