Rostov vs Manchester United, 18:00 GMT/ 19:00 CET, Olimp-II, Rostov-on-Don
Rostov’s fairy tale continues as the glamorous pantomime villain Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United side roll into town for a game that carries far greater implications than even the historic defeat of Bayern Munich. That 3-2 win over the Bavarians was unparalleled in its sense of occasion, but never held anything more than a means to an end – of securing an escape into Europe’s second tier competition. This time, however, there is a real opportunity to capitalise on a disjointed and period for the most decorated team in English football.
Mourinho has made much of the fixture overload for his men, and has moaned in particular about this trip coming just days before a critical FA Cup tie against his former employers Chelsea. Continental performances on the road have been even more lacklustre than English Premier League displays, and with what is sure to be a rotated lineup with domestic responsibilities in mind, it is hard to see a free-flowing attacking spree that the illustrious stars in red are capable of.
There is still an element of unknown about Rostov to English media and clubs, with many catching headlines comparing the Russians to Leicester City in reference to their stunning rampage to the cusp of RFPL success last season, but little else. Understandable confusion reigns over who exactly is in charge and what style they play, with the overriding assumption being that they are ultra-defensive. This does a great disservice to the lightning counter-attacking play crafted by Christian Noboa’s vision, Dmitry Poloz’s pace and Sardar Azmoun’s finishing.
If anything, this could play into the hands of the hosts. The stadium will be the smallest United will have encountered this season in Europe, and after the lengthy journey from the north-west of England an intensity quite different from the massed hordes in Istanbul will greet them. If one adds in the nerves generated by the misguided BBC hooligan documentary – which featured a group of Rostov ultras heavily – there is every chance of an upset.
As for the first leg itself, it will be critical for Rostov to score as they will find life much tougher a week later in England. Azmoun in particular is a visible force in games of the highest magnitude, perhaps fueled by a desire to put himself on display for an English audience. Poloz was rested from the annihilation of Tom Tomsk at the weekend – the only first-choice player treated in such a manner – and will be raring to go.
Eric Bailly is suspended for the visitors, leaving a likely pairing of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the centre of defence, but Rostov have all the squad available. Alexandru Gatçan, Vladimir Granat and Timofei Kalachev are all one yellow away from being suspended from the return leg.
Rostov vs Manchester United – Players to Look Out For
Manchester United’s players are all well known across the continent, but Anthony Martial represents the most lethal threat despite his slightly underwhelming season on a personal level. The young Frenchman’s pace is a danger to a defensive line with an average age of over 31, and he has scored in Russia for the Mancunians before (earning a 1-1 draw away to CSKA Moscow last season). He has not always been guaranteed a place in Mourinho’s starting XI, which makes it slightly more likely he will play a bigger role in Rostov, but his impact can be utterly devastating when he is in form and in the mood.
Rostov’s ability to deliver on their intent will hinge on the performance of volatile skipper Alexandru Gatçan. His younger, more attacking teammates will take the limelight more likely than not, but the Moldovan defensive midfield general sets the tone for the game with his tough tackling and personal character on the pitch. He has been known to overstep the mark when it comes to discipline – three red cards in his first 14 league games this season will atest to that – but his approach might give the hosts the edge they need to gain any foothold in the match.
Rostov vs Manchester United – Match Stats
- Rostov have lost just once – 0-1 to Atletico Madrid – in their last seven home European games, remaining unbeaten against PSV and Bayern Munich.
- They have never faced English opposition before, although they did have Englishman David Bentley on loan four seasons ago
- Manchester United have drawn three of their last four matches against Russian clubs in Russia
- Both sides are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions coming into this tie
- The last time United made it to the quarter final stage of the Europa League/UEFA Cup was over 30 years ago
Futbolgrad Prediction: Rostov vs Manchester United 1-1
Medvedev – Kalachev, Mevlja, Navas, Granat, Kudryashev – Noboa, Gatskan, Erokhin – Poloz, Azmoun
Head Coach: Ivan Daniliants
Romero – Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo – Carrick, Herrera – Martial, Fellaini, Rashford – Ibrahimović
Head Coach: Jose Mourinho