Manchester United face a tricky Wednesday fixture as Jose Mourinho takes his side to Russia to face CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League.
CSKA Moscow started their Champions League campaign on a positive note, with a narrow 2-1 away win over SL Benfica, which would be a huge boost in their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the prestigious European event.
Likewise, Manchester United also got off on the right foot, with a dominant 3-0 win over FC Basel at Old Trafford. The Red Devils come into the match undefeated so far in the season and would want to extend their run with a positive result in Russia.
By no means will this be an easy fixture for the Jose Mourinho’s men though, with CSKA Moscow looking to take advantage of the home conditions in order to gain a point or three to, and some early advantage over their adversaries in Group A.
We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Mario Fernandes is the only likely absentee for the Russian side. The defender was forced to come off just 30 minutes into their league match over the weekend and he will not have recovered in time to feature. Aleksandr Golovin is in contention for a start after missing the game against Dinamo Moscow on the weekend through suspension.
Viktor Goncharenko is one of the few managers who has been fielding a three-man backline regularly and the same is expected against Manchester United. The home side relies on the attacking front three to provide the ammunition while the midfield is largely to plug holes and provide some steel to the defence.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Akinfeev; Vasin, V.Berezutski, A.Berezutski; Nababkin, Wernbloom, Natkho, Schennikov; Dzagoev, Vitinho, Golovin
Jose Mourinho has already confirmed that Manchester United will be without the midfield trio of Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick. Midfield is reeling but the Portuguese does have Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera to deploy in the pivot role, which all but confirms the 4-2-3-1 formation.
The manager also confirmed the absence of Phil Jones and the United fans might finally be treated to the pairing of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Matteo Darmian could come into the side on either side of the defence as Mourinho seeks to rotate his squad to some extent – Antonio Valencia has been rested for the trip.
The frontline, though, is expected to be heavily populated with key stars, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku both expected to be named in the starting eleven.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Darmian, Bailly, Lindelof, Blind; Herrera, Matic; Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Lukaku
1. Home Troubles – All three of CSKA Moscow’s defeats so far this season have come at home.
2. In the 4 matches against the Russian side, Manchester United are undefeated but have won just two of them and have not beaten them by more than a goal.
3. CSKA Moscow have failed to keep a clean sheet for 29 successive Champions League matches now, with their last shut out coming in a 0-0 draw against Trabzonspor in November, 2011.
4. The Away Curse – Manchester United have won just one of their last 10 away games in the Champions League, drawing 4 and losing 5.
5. Manchester United have not made it past the group stages of the UEFA Champions League since 2013/14, with a total record of progression in 16 out of 20 attempts.
Player To Watch
The Armenian has started the Premier League in red hot form. But, he is yet to show up in the UEFA Champions League. A tricky away tie in Russia will test the club and with the Armenian all but a certainty to start the match, he could be the difference on Wednesday.
The UEFA Europa League was Mkhitaryan’s happy hunting ground last season and he would be eager to now replicate his form in the UEFA Champions League as well. His movement and passing would be crucial against CSKA Moscow.
CSKA Moscow 0-1 Manchester United
We believe Manchester United fans will be satisfied by the first instance of the Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof pairing at the back. Jose Mourinho is expected to instruct his side to find a goal or two and then defend their lead, knowing well enough of the home side’s ability.
United have never won by a margin of more than 1 goal against CSKA and the same trend is expected to continue. Expect the Red Devils to eke out a goal and defend well to get another three points under their belt. A narrow win for Mourinho & co.