Our writer previews the round of 16, first leg, UEFA Europa League clash between Rostov and Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho will have dreaded this draw for the Europa League. Not only does this trip take them on one of the most physically draining instances of travelling possible in Europe, it also takes them to a Russian side fresh off a cozy winter break.
Rostov have had their domestic difficulties this year, culminating in a managerial shift from Kurban Berdyev to Ivan Daniliants, but their European odyssey has been sensational. They beat Bayern Munich and only narrowly lost to Atletico at home in the Champions League, emphasizing the difficulty of the task awaiting a beleaguered United side this week. With one eye on that potentially epic quarter-final FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge this week, it will be interesting to see exactly how United approach this game.
UEFA Europa League | Round of 16, first leg | Thursday 9 March | Olimp-2 | 20:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Rostov 36/10 | Draw 24/10 | Manchester United 8/10
Rostov qualified for the Round of 16 courtesy of a resounding 5-1 aggregate win over Sparta Prague. They have won six of their seven home ties in Europe this season, including that historic 3-2 victory over Bayern.
And that, with virtually no European pedigree to speak of. They currently sit a disappointing 5th in their domestic table, but they did tune up for this game with a resounding 6-0 thumping of Tom’ Tomsk.
They play with a fairly robust 5-3-2 formation, which will likely see the dynamic Sardar Azmoun leading the line with former Rubin Kazan striker Dimitri Poloz. The two strikers have a combined total of 12 European goals this season, emphasising their burgeoning partnership - a partnership that United no doubt covet.
Christian Noboa is a rock in midfield, able to play a variety of positions. He also has an uncanny knack for scoring and will provide Paul Pogba with a stern test of his tactical discipline. I think that Rostov are going to surprise United with the intricacy and efficiency of their movement.
Man United will feel deflated after that 1-1 home draw with Bournemouth. The number of points that they have thrown away as a result of wasteful finishing this season is astonishing. And that is going to be domestically compounded by the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely to pick up a three match suspension for an errant elbow in the Bournemouth match.
The Swede also seemed slightly fatigued against Bournemouth and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mourinho starts Marcus Rashford through the middle this week. He is likely to be utilized for the next three domestic games, so Mourinho may want to give him a run in that central position.
Luke Shaw will probably retain his place at left-back, while Ander Herrera and Pogba seem to be the only midfield combination that Mourinho has complete trust in. I’m worried about that area of the field in this game for United.
Neither Pogba nor Herrera is your classical holding midfielder. They both look to get into advanced areas. Rostov have a litany of technically gifted players who could exploit that vacated space in front of the back four. The crucial group victory at Zorya will be used as motivation by Mourinho, but I expect the Red Devils to have a tough night on Thursday.
Verdict: Double Chance - Rostov
The bookmakers have thoroughly underestimated a Rostov side that has been imperious at home in Europe. Their victory over Bayern Munich and narrow defeat to Atletico Madrid should be evidence enough that United will have a mammoth task, aside from all the travel-related concerns.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.