Manchester United shift their focus to Europe, and qualification to the Round of 32 in the UEFA Europa League will be on the mind of Jose Mourinho’s men as they travel to Odessa to take on Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

The group stage of the Europa League reaches its climax, as all 48 teams play their final game of the opening round in the competition on Thursday night. In Group A, competition debutants Zorya Luhansk bow out of the competition as they host English giants Manchester United at the Chornomorets Stadium. The reverse fixture saw the Red Devils edge out a fighting Zorya 1-0 to register their first points in Europa League this season.

The Ukranian outfit saw their fate sealed on Matchday 5, as they lost 2-0 at Fenerbahce to be consigned to fourth place in the group table. Manchester United, on the other hand, kept hopes of qualification to the knockout stages as they romped home to a thumping 4-0 win over Feyenoord to leapfrog the Dutch side into second spot, a point behind leaders Fenerbahce. That result meant that a draw is enough to see Jose Mourinho’s side through to the next stage of the competition.

Probable Lineups and Tactics

Zorya Luhansk

Zorya are going through a terrible run of form, having gone winless in six games in all competitions (D3, L3) stretching back to the start of November. Their most recent result saw them throw away a one-goal lead to go down 3-2 to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk at the Slavutych-Arena.

As Manchester United come “visiting”, they move to their European home stadium Chornomorets Stadium in Odessa for their final bow in this season’s competition.

Manager Yuriy Vernydub has just two players out for the visit of Manchester United. Captain and right back Mykyta Kamenyuka is injured and misses out on Thursday, while young left back Eduard Sobol is suspended after being sent off late in the match at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on Matchday 5.

In Kamenyuka’s stead, Evgeniy Opanasenko will continue to fill in as the right back, while Artem Sukhotsky is expected to cover for Sobol at left back. However, with fully fit midfield and attack at his disposal, Yuriy Vernydub could start his strongest possible lineup as Zorya play for pride in front of their travelling home fans for one last time in Europe this season.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Shevchenko; Opanasenko, Sivakov, Forster, Sukhotsky; Karavayev, Chaykovsky, Grechyshkin, Petryak; Ljubenovic; Kulach

Manchester United

Manchester United’s frustrations in the Premier League continued last weekend as they conceded from a penalty late on to draw 1-1 at Everton on Sunday night. Jose Mourinho’s men have, however, often saved their best form for cup competitions this season with impressive wins over West Ham United, Fenerbahce and Feyenoord showing their pedigree.

On the team news front, Jose Mourinho is slowly but surely approaching a clean bill of health, with Chris Smalling (toe) and Luke Shaw (knock) the only players out with injuries. Both defenders miss the trip to Ukraine, as do Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and Michael Carrick who have been rested. Meanwhile, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, who seem to be on the way out of Old Trafford, have also been excluded from Manchester United’s 19-man squad.

With top spot still up for grabs in Group A, Mourinho will look to start with most of his star players up front, as Manchester United look to find the back of the net on Thursday. Wayne Rooney should return to the starting XI after missing out on the weekend due to suspension, as should Juan Mata. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely to spearhead the attack with either Marcus Rashford or Jesse Lingard expected to line up on the left wing.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Romero; Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mata, Rooney, Rashford; Ibrahimovic

Key Stats

  • Zorya Luhansk and Manchester United have met just once in European competition, which was the reverse fixture back in September, which United won 1-0.
  • Manchester United are unbeaten in their last seven games in Europe against Ukranian opposition, winning five of those fixtures.
  • However, the Red Devils are also on their worst ever away run in Europe, having lost their last five games on the road.
  • Manchester United have conceded at least one goal in each of their last seven away games in Europe, their worst run since 1965 when they conceded in nine consecutive games.
  • Wayne Rooney will be looking to score in three consecutive European games for the first time since March 2010.

Prediction

Zorya Luhansk 1-2 Manchester United

Their fortunes in the Premier League don’t seem to be improving, but Manchester United have often reserved their best for the midweek cup games. United’s performances have certainly improved since the two sides last met but Jose Mourinho will be hoping his attackers can find a way to put their finishing boots on when they step out at the Chornomorets Stadium on Thursday.

Zorya, on the other hand, have been out of their depth in their first ever appearance in the Europa League, despite admirable showings in each of their games so far. The Ukranians have only managed to find the back of the net twice thus far, with each of those goals coming in 1-1 draws against Feyenoord and Fenerbahce.

As they prepare for the visit of Manchester United on Thursday, Yuriy Vernydub’s men will be keen to keep their unbeaten European record intact, and possibly even cause a shock upset at the expense of their English guests. Anything but a United win seems unlikely though, with the likes of Rooney, Mata and Ibrahimovic going experiencing a purple patch in recent weeks.

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