Manchester United's search for maiden Europa League glory takes them far east to Russia as surprise package FC Rostov welcomes the Red Devils for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first-leg at Olimp-2 Stadium. The match, as expected, has gathered global attention with the Russian minnows pitted against one of the world's most recognisable and respected name in football.
Rostov thumped Sparta Prague 5-1 on aggregate to advance to the Round of 16 while United produced an aggregate win of the same goal margin on way to equal their best finish in the revamped version of the UEFA Cup. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two sides.
ROSTOV'S IMPRESSIVE HOME RECORD BOOSTS THEIR HOPES OF CAUSING AN UPSET
Runners-up in the Russian Premier League last season, Rostov are certainly no pushovers. The Yellow-Blues made it to the UEFA Champions League group stages this season, getting the better of established teams like RSC Anderlecht and Ajax Amsterdam en route to their maiden group stage campaign. The Selmashi caused probably the biggest upset in Europe's elite club competition as they defeated five-time Champions League winners Bayern Munich 3-2 on Matchday 5. They weren't able to make it through the group stages but thanks to the win over the Bavarians and couple of draws with PSV Eindhoven, Rostov finished third in Group D which prolonged their European adventure by qualifying for the Europa League.
Rostov's pitch probably has something to do with this home form… pic.twitter.com/iVC60A40O4
— Peter Campbell (@PeterCampbe11) March 8, 2017
Rostov's greatest asset is their near-impeccable home record. The Russian outfit is unbeaten at home domestically and have lost all but one of their last 7 home European games. They are currently 7th in the Russian Premier League but the position doesn't reflect their footballing talent. Manager Ivan Daniliants deploys a five-at-the-back formation and this is probably the reason why they boast the second-best defensive record in Russian top-flight. Rostov are good on the counter and specialise in scoring from set-pieces. The Yellow-Blues may be a million miles away from matching Manchester United's financial clout but certainly, have the necessary to cause them troubles throughout the course of the match.
FC ROSTOV TEAM NEWS
The Selmashi have a clean bill of health and manager Ivan Daniliants will field the strongest possible starting eleven. Captain Alexandru Gatcan, Timofei Kalachev and Vladimir Granat are treading a suspension tightrope with the trio just a yellow card away from missing the second leg at Old Trafford.
UNITED BANKING ON THEIR AMAZING RUSSIAN RECORD TO NEGOTIATE THE FIRST-LEG
The Red Devils were brought back to earth just a week after their EFL Cup triumph following an exasperating home draw with AFC Bournemouth. There were no positives to take from a match they could have easily won by a huge margin on another day except for the fact that they created a bucket load of chances for themselves. United's lingering inability to dispatch their league opponents has given boss Jose Mourinho a food for thought time and time again but it's a different ballgame when it comes to playing in cup competitions. And putting into perspective their record against Russian opposition – 2 wins, 6 draws and 1 loss, the Red Devils should be eagerly awaiting to play the tie.
Man Utd's week:
4,284 mile round trip to Rostov Oblast ????????
434 mile round trip to London ????????
On the road again. ???? pic.twitter.com/wINYT4BFZq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 9, 2017
But the fact that the solitary defeat they suffered (against Zenit St. Petersburg in the 2008 UEFA Super Cup) came at a neutral venue of Monaco makes it even more amazing. Talking about playing in Russia specifically, the Mancunians are unbeaten in their four previous trips (1W 3D) and enjoy a similar record when Russian teams come to play at Old Trafford. Rostov are undoubtedly a tough team to beat on their own turf but it would be wrong to consider them as unassailable.
The only away team to win at the Olimp-2 stadium this season – Atletico Madrid relied on their defensive strength to not only see out the hosts comfortably but also come through unscathed. United are on a similar track as well with no goals conceded in last 4 Europa League outings and the attack is firing all cylinders as far as this competition is concerned. With the blueprint and the tools to implement it already there, Jose Mourinho's men should be more than adept to maintain United's unblemished record in Russia.
This is how hard the ground Man Utd will play Rostov tomorrow at is… ???? pic.twitter.com/clKFQxWWpH
— Football Fights (@footbalIfights) March 8, 2017
MANCHESTER UNITED TEAM NEWS
Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger weren't included in the 20 member squad who undertook a 3000km long journey east to Russia. Eric Bailly is suspended for the first-leg following his red card against Saint-Etienne but Ander Herrera returns to the fold after serving a one-match suspension. Mourinho confirmed in his Thursday press conference Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start but has raised doubts over the selection of fit-again Henrikh Mkhitaryan owing to poor pitch condition.
FC Rostov XI (5-3-2): Medvedev; Kalachev, Mevlja, Navas, Granat, Kudryashov; Noboa, Gatcan(C), Yerokhin; Azmoun, Poloz
Manchester United XI (4-2-3-1): Romero; Valencia, Smalling(C), Rojo, Blind; Pogba, Herrera; Lingard, Mata, Martial; Ibrahimovic
PLAYER TO WATCH OUT
Ibrahimovic's 17th career hat-trick made all the difference for United as they negotiated the Round of 32 with ease. The treble enabled the Swede to become the club's top scorer in this season's competition with 5 goals. Playing the first-leg away at a difficult venue against a notoriously tough team to beat on their own patch, it's time for Zlatan to shine again. The 35-year-old will be hoping to get his way against Rostov as he seeks to take out the frustration of missing a potentially match-winning penalty last weekend on the Russian outfit.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 8, 2017
FC ROSTOV 1-2 MANCHESTER UNITED
Rostov boasts a near unblemished home record domestically and in Europe combined. However, United have the quality to dig in and extract a favourable outcome. Expect a fiercely contested game but some Zlatan magic could help the visitors emerge as the triumphant team at the end of 90 minutes.
Rostov vs Manchester United will be live on TEN 1 tonight at 23:30 IST.