Manchester United vs Rostov, 20:05 GMT/ 21:05 CET, Old Trafford – Manchester.
Jose Mourinho finds himself in the middle of the congested fixture period that he began complaining about some time ago on the back of a relatively satisfactory 1-1 draw in Rostov last week. Certainly, having the pressure to score technically off his team’s shoulders will be a welcome bonus, and we are likely to see a very different side to the experimental formation and players that came away from Russia with a draw.
Normally, a Europa League run would be well down the list of priorities for Manchester United, but they can ill afford to go a second season without Champions League football, so winning the second-tier competition is looking increasingly like their best chance of re-joining the top table. Having already claimed silverware in the shape of the EFL Cup last month, there is still a sense that some pride can be salvaged from a season that has seen rivals maintain the advantage they held last season despite the millions spent in transfer fees.
Rostov have continued to defy expectations in Europe this season, and the optimists will still see hope in the return leg, given the visitor’s excellent continental away record (the 5-0 hammering against Bayern aside). The renowned five-man defence that Kurban Berdyev moulded in his image last season is more than capable of making life awkward for United, but they will have to reshuffle the personnel. The evergreen Timofei Kalachev will be missing due to suspension, while the central core will be disrupted by the fractured collarbone suffered by Vladimir Granat in the first leg.
Another major disruption to their plans is the suspension of Alexander Gatskan. The tough-tackling skipper will serve his fourth ban of the season in just 16 appearances in all competitions, leaving a sizeable gap in front of the defence. The absence of Gatskan’s aggressive leadership, and how best to fill it, will be the biggest headache for Rostov.
The atmosphere in Old Trafford will be very different from the intensity of Bayern’s Allianz Arena or Atletico’s Vicente Calderon and, bearing in mind the inconsistent performances of United at home this season—where they have accumulated seven draws in their last 11 league games—Rostov’s best chance may lie in frustrating both the opposition players and supporters. It is quite possible that Sardar Azmoun will again be used as an impact substitute to try and snatch the minimum one goal they need to progress.
Manchester United vs Rostov – Players to Look Out For
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a habit of producing some of his most effective performances for Manchester United in the Europa League, and his goalscoring instinct will be a major threat that Rostov’s reorganised defence will have to watch out for. His goal in the first leg showed his positional sense and awareness to be in the right place at the right time and, if he were to ghost in for another goal early on this week, it would be catastrophic for Rostov’s chances.
Christian Noboa will have to be at his most accurate with his short and long range passing if what little ball possession Rostov are likely to be granted is to count for anything. He may well be called upon to play a more defensive role than he is accustomed to, which makes his creative instinct doubly important whenever he does have possession. His set pieces could also be central to the narrative of Rostov’s evening.
Manchester United vs Rostov – Match Stats
- Rostov haven’t won in their last five European away matches, while United have on their last four
- In their last four home games against Russian opposition, United have only won once, drawing the other three.
- The only time the 20-time English champions have lost to Russian opponents was in the 2008 European Super Cup to Zenit.
- Rostov have scored just twice in their last four European away matches
- If United win on aggregate, they would equal their best performance in this competition when they made the quarter final just over 30 years ago.
Futbolgrad Prediction: Manchester United vs Rostov 2-1
Romero – Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo – Herrera, Pogba – Young, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan – Ibrahimović
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Medvedev – Kireev, Mevlja, Navas, Kudryashev, Terentev – Noboa, Prepelita, Erokhin – Poloz, Bukharov
Manager: Ivan Daniliants