Manchester United's quest for a maiden Europa League title rolls into the Round of 32 as they host AS Saint-Etienne tonight in the first-leg at Old Trafford. The tie will also witness the reunion of Pogba brothers – Florentin and Paul and has been raking in the limelight for the very reason ever since the draw was made in December. The two sides are in, somewhat, similar situation as far as their positions in their respective leagues are concerned and progressing further into the Europa League could be the only way of making it to the big Champions League nights next campaign.
United and Saint-Etienne have met just once beforehand in the first round of the 1977/78 European Cup Winners' Cup. Dave Sexton's United earned a 1-1 draw in the first leg in France and won the return fixture 2-0. United were forced to play that 'home' leg at a neutral venue – Plymouth's Home Park – following crowd trouble in France. So this will be the first meeting between the two sides at Old Trafford.
HISTORY AND AN INCREDIBLE HOME RECORD PULLING THE TIE IN FAVOUR OF THE HOSTS
United's European pedigree is well known to all but the absence of one trophy from their trophy cabinet separates them from achieving eternal greatness – the UEFA Europa League. Only four teams – Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Chelsea have won all the three major UEFA club competitions – Champions League, Europa League and Cup Winners Cup and the Red Devils need to win this season's Europa League to make into the list of elites. Considering their precarious league situation, they may need to look up to Europe's second-tier competition to make an instant return to the Champions League.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 16, 2017
And they have the team and history to do so. United are now unbeaten at home in Europe for nearly 4 years now. They boast an impeccable record against French teams when it comes to playing at home. The Mancunians have never lost any of their previous 13 home fixtures to French opposition at home (P13 W9 D4 L0) and have conceded a mere six times all this while. Looking at this record itself will do a whole lot of good to Jose Mourinho's men as they aim for eternal greatness in Europe.
MANCHESTER UNITED TEAM NEWS
Jose Mourinho has ruled out Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick with a muscular problem. Phil Jones also continues to recover from his foot injury and is sidelined as well. The Portuguese also confirmed the absence of Luke Shaw from his matchday squad as he is content with his back four of Valencia-Smalling-Bailly-Blind. Marcos Rojo is available for selection. Expect Mourinho to field the same eleven that started in the 2-0 win over Watford last Saturday.
SAINT-ETIENNE AIMING TO CREATE HISTORY ON ENEMY'S TURF
Les Verts may not be a force to reckon as far as Europe is concerned but France's most successful team can't be taken for granted. Saint-Etienne progressed as the top-ranked team from Group C ahead of RSC Anderlecht and FSV Mainz. They did it on the last matchday and that too in some style as they came from two goals down to win 3-2 away at Anderlecht. This may not be the matchup Les Verts might have been looking for after topping the group but nonetheless, they will cherish being the underdogs and a huge upset is what they will be definitely dreaming for.
However, their record on English soil is woeful, to say the least. Saint-Etienne have lost in each of their three visits to England, the most recent one coming way back in 1981. One of the three visits included a match against Manchester United and lost it 2-0 as aforementioned. No French team has ever been able to muster a win at Old Trafford including their local rivals Olympique Lyonnais. Manager Christophe Galtier himself doesn't have any fond memories at Old Trafford, having lost on both occasions during his time as an assistant manager at Portsmouth and Lyon.
— AS Saint-Etienne (@ASSEofficiel) February 15, 2017
But despite United's unblemished Old Trafford record against French sides, they have developed the tendency to fluff their chances and ends up frustrating themselves and the home crowd alike, something the visitors will be desperately hoping for tonight. Scoring an away goal and not losing by a huge margin must be the top of their wishlist if they are to give themselves a good chance to progress to the Round of 16 come the second leg at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard next Thursday.
AS SAINT-ETIENNE TEAM NEWS
Left-back Cheikh M'Bengue is a doubt for Saint-Etienne, meaning Florentin Pogba could retain his place and start against brother Paul on Thursday night. Saint-Etienne are still expected to be without Oussama Tannane, Robert Beric and Alexander Søderlund for the trip to Old Trafford on Thursday. Christophe Galtier is expected to make one change to his starting lineup that thrashed Lorient 4-0 last Sunday by bringing in forward Nolan Roux for Jorge Intima.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling (C), Bailly, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Ibrahimovic
AS Saint-Etienne (4-2-3-1): Ruffier; Malcuit, Theophile-Catherine, Perrin (C), Pogba; Pajot, Veretout; Hamouma, Saviet, Monnet-Paquet; Roux
PLAYER TO WATCH OUT
The Swede may have scored only twice in the competition but here he comes against a team he relished the most playing against during his four years in France. Ibrahimovic scored a staggering 14 goals in thirteen matches against Les Verts for PSG. Hopes will be pinned on him to carry on his purple patch against Saint-Etienne tonight.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) February 7, 2017
Manchester United 3-1 AS Saint-Etienne
Both sides boast one of the steeliest defences in their respective leagues but attack is where the difference comes into perspective. The hosts have never lost to a French opponent at home in European competition and expect the tradition to continue tonight.
Live on TEN 2 and TEN 1 HD on Friday, February 17 at 01:35 IST.