Despite losing their first two away games of this Europa League campaign, against Feyenoord and Fenerbache, Manchester United can secure progression to the knockout stages with in Ukraine (or potentially less if other results go their way). Zorya Luhansk have already been eliminated from Group A, and host United playing for nothing more than pride.
The city of Luhansk, in the easternmost part of Ukraine, just 40 kilometres from the Russian /Ukrainian border, is currently de facto under control of the People’s Republic of Luhansk. Luhansk is so far east it is more eastern than parts of Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia (some pub conversation fodder for any geography teachers). Due to the current situation in Ukraine, Zorya’s home games are actually played in Zaporizhia.
Political turmoil and geography aside, this tie marks Manchester United’s first trip to Zorya, and therefore will surely generate huge interest for fans of the Ukrainian side, but perhaps this is not reciprocated by Red Devils supporters, who will want to put the group to bed before turning their eye to “bigger” teams in the knockout stages.
Manchester United have not won in the Premier League since a 3-1 success over Swansea City over a month ago. However, since then the Reds have drawn three successive 1-1 draws against Arsenal, West Ham and Everton, as well as a 4-1 EFL Cup quarter final win over the Hammers. Even the most ardent United fan would concede that a title challenge is now out of the question, and being nine points behind city rivals Manchester City who occupy fourth, a top four challenge also looks very difficult. Hence, one would assume, Mourinho will put extra emphasis into this competition as (bar the EFL Cup and FA Cup) it is United’s most likely chance of success and could even pave the way for an automatic Champions League berth next year if they were to win the whole competition. The whole competition is not at stake tonight, but they are not guaranteed of qualification, so expect a strong XI to aim to win the match.
As aforementioned this is a dead rubber for Zorya Luhansk. Or is it? Admittedly the Ukrainians cannot qualify from the group, but playing Manchester United at home for the first time ever will likely be motivation enough. Zorya are in good domestic form, sitting 3rd in the Ukrainian Premier League, and go into this tie off the back of three straight league wins. The former Soviet Union team will argue this is the biggest and most eagerly anticipated fixture in the club’s history. It will be interesting to see how the players react to the pressure of this match up.
Predicted line ups
Zorya predicted starting XI:
Manchester United predicted starting XI:
Injuries and suspensions
Zorya right back Mykyta Kamenyuka is touch and go for this one.
None of Carrick, Darmian, Valencia, Depay or Schneiderlin have travelled with United and are therefore ruled out.
You are hard pushed to look past Manchester United for this one. Yes, Zorya will be motivated and ‘up for the cup’ as it were, but considering United’s chance to gain Champions League qualification with success in this competition, that’ll be at the forefront of Mourinho’s mind – one would assume at least. If Jose picks the big boys expect a comfortable win for United, despite the long distance travelling involved.
Our prediction: Zorya Luhansk 0-2 Manchester United
Featured image: All rights reserved by: Simon Taylor