Manchester United return to Old Trafford to take on FC Rostov this coming Thursday.
Jose Mourinho will feel that his season could be on the verge of imploding if he does not comfortably sail into the Europa League quarter-finals. Their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea was notable for a number of reasons. Mourinho attempted to fight fire with fire by switching to a 3-4-3 formation, which absolutely bombed. They ultimately enjoyed 28% possession and were dispatched in a manner which verged on exhibition. Rostov’s disappointing domestic campaign took yet another frustrating turn with a poor 0-0 home draw with Terek Grozny. Ivan Daniliants’ side will be far removed from the comforts of that mudslide that they hosted United in last week and will need to be at their best this week to stand any chance of progression.
Manchester United v FC Rostov | Thursday 16 March | Old Trafford | 22:05
To Win (90 Mins)
Man United 1/4 | Draw 9/2 | FC Rostov 11/1
It was frankly slightly embarrassing that Mourinho switched to the very formation that the taciturn Portuguese has criticised Conte of employing this season. It was an act of desperation at the prospect of playing a side that was just superior. Mourinho has to look at his midfield situation seriously. Herrera’s dismissal was just another manifestation of his ill-discipline, while Pogba is clearly not a holding midfielder. There is a major hole that needs filling before he gets all carried away with the likes of Griezmann, etc.
That being said, he will feel fairly confident that his side will dispatch of a middling Rostov side. That disaster of a pitch that they played on last week did little to highlight the disparity of class between the two sides. This week will be far different. Rostov have some talented players but will battle to contain United this week. The fact that United were able to compete so well on that minefield last week doesn’t bode well for a Rostov side currently battling in mid-table of the Russian first division. Ibrahimovic - currently serving his three-match domestic ban - will lead what will likely be a far more conventional 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mkhitaryan and Mata providing loads of creativity.
A frustrating 0-0 draw with Terek Grozny at the weekend was probably a result of the fact that this trip to Manchester is a season-defining moment for the Russian side. They played well in patches last week - not referring to the patches of smooth grass on their home surface - and have technically gifted players that can threaten United. Aleksandr Bukharov’s equaliser came off the back of an excellent brace against Tom Tomsk. The forward is in good enough form to be keeping top scorer Sardar Azmoun on the bench.
Their real creative threat comes from Poloz, whose invention could prove tricky for United’s occasionally stagnant midfield to contain. But Rostov have huge issues in the suspensions of Gatcan and Timofey Kalachev this week. Kalachev was instrumental in the first leg, with that sublime diagonal that unleashed Bukharov for the first goal. Key suspensions in a tie of this magnitude will mean that Rostov will ultimately pay a heavy price for their ill-discipline.
Verdict: Matchbet + BTTS - United to Win and Both Teams to Score 31/20
United even when they have dominated games this year - have failed to score swathes of goals. Rostov will be plucky but will ultimately be outdone by United. But I do expect Bukharov or Poloz to at least find the net. I expect a 2-1 or 3-1 score-line this week.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.