Manchester United travel to Russia to take on Rostov in the first leg of the Europa League Round of 16.
After edging through the group phase, Manchester United put up a decent performance in the first knockout round of the tournament against Dutch giants Saint Etienne. The Red Devils dominated both legs and ran out deserving 4-0 aggregate winners.
Rostov reached the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League group stages. Drawn in a group that featured two heavyweights in Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, the Russians had very little chances to progress.
Despite that, they showed incredible grit and determination and pulled off an impressive 3-2 win over Bayern – in what will go down as one of their best ever European performances.
The only team they managed to finish ahead of was PSV Eindhoven, who drew both their matches with Rostov, and struggled to cope up with the enormous challenge of the top clubs in their group.
Rostov will now look to continue their march and will be looking to cause yet another upset on the continental stage. Looking at their recent performances, Manchester United will definitely not be taking their Russian opponents for granted.
Team News and Tactics
David De Gea is expected to start in goal with a back four of Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind ahead of him, especially with Eric Bailly suspended for the match. In midfield, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick have formed a prolific understanding, and are likely to start as a double pivot.
Moving further up the pitch, Paul Pogba is likely to start as a number 10 with the industry of Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford on either sides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been confirmed to be featuring on Thursday by Jose Mourinho, after the Swede will have to sit out three English games owing to FA sanction.
Probable Starting XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Blind; Herrera, Carrick; Mata, Pogba, Rashford, Ibrahimovic.
Rostov prove to be a relatively unknown threat for Manchester United. They will rely on their robust attacking duo of Sardar Azmoun and Aleksandr Bukarov for goals. Aleksandru Gatkan will pull the strings in midfield.
Defensively, Rostov boss Ivan Daniliants is likely to deploy a back three ahead of the ever-present Nikita Medvedev in goal.
Probable Starting XI: Medvedev; Melvija, Navas, Granat; Kalachev, Erokhin, Gatcan, Noboa, Kudryashov; Bukharov, Azmoun.
- United have not lost any of their last four away games against Russian opposition (W1 D3 L0) and also won the 2008 Champions League final on penalties against Chelsea in Moscow.
- Since the start of 2015-16, Russian clubs have faced English teams six times and have not won any of those matches (W0 D2 L4).
- Rostov are playing in the knockout stages of a major European competition for the first time in their history.
- Rostov have lost only three of their last 13 games in European competition (inc. qualifiers W4 D6).
- Rostov are unbeaten in four games in Europe, their best such run (exc. qualifiers).
- Dmitri Poloz has been involved in seven of Rostov’s last 11 goals in European competitions (5 goals, 2 assists).
- In the last round, Rostov recorded their biggest ever European win, beating Sparta Prague 4-0 in the first leg of their tie.
Player To Watch
Manchester United: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The man needs no introduction. He has taken to life in England better than many thought he would and is arguably United’s best player of the season. At 35, the Swede is showing the awareness of a striker in his prime. While his work rate may be questionable, his net output is far superior that his counterparts, which is why he has gained the complete backing of Mourinho.
However, incidents on the weekend saw him receive a three-match domestic ban, but he will not be suspended from playing in Europe. Thus, with few matchdays rest in the forseeable future, Ibrahimovic will be gunning to make the headlines for the right reason again, and is expected to start against Rostov.
FC Rostov 1-1 Manchester United
Jose Mourinho has been critical of the pitch condition building up to this game, and it will undoubtedly play a key a role in shaping the outcome of this tie. Russia is one of the most difficult places to play in Europe, and United could have trouble putting the game to bed. Also, with them shipping in few goals of late, a draw seems to be the most likely.