Manchester United will be looking to continue their two-game winning run when they host Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League on Thursday.
After a run that saw the Red Devils succumb to three defeats within a matter of eight days, things have finally been on the up for them as they managed to beat Northampton in the EFL Cup before they thrashed Leicester at home in the Premier League.
The key change in Jose Mourinho’s side is the exclusion of Wayne Rooney, and the club captain remains a major doubt for the game against Zorya as well. But it will be a momentous occasion for United to earn their first points in Europe this season.
Zorya Luhansk go into this one as clear underdogs. They finished fourth in the Ukrainian league last season and got into Europe’s second tier club competition through the play-offs.
For them, a game at Old Trafford would probably be a monumental setting – probably the experience of a lifetime for most players. While they’ll go into the game with no pressure, they may hope to spoil Mourinho’s party in Manchester.
Jose Mourinho, in his press conference leading to the game, suggested that he will be fielding a strengthened side. Barring the absence of Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he has a full strength side at his disposal.
Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, despite being fit, are major doubts. One person guaranteed to start is striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The summer acquisition hit the ground running since moving to Old Trafford, but is now on a four-game barren spell and will be looking to end his drought.
Defensively, a number of permutations can be applied by manager Mourinho but it seems like he will stick to a centre-back pairing of Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling. Dutch defender-cum-holding midfielder Daley Blind impressed against Leicester and is likely to start as a left-back on Thursday.
In midfield, Michael Carrick may be given the green signal, given his stellar performances in the EFL Cup a week ago. Ander Herrera makes a solid case for his inclusion after putting in a tireless display against Leicester City. World-record signing Pogba may be named as a substitute to give him a much needed breather.
The visitors are likely to deploy a 4-4-1-1 system against their English counterparts. Long-standing shot stopper Oleksiy Shevchenko is likely to start in goal with a central defensive pairing of Mikhail Sivakov and Rafael Forster ahead of him.
In the middle of the park, Artem Godienko and Dmytro Grechyshkin will be looking to nullify the United midfield pivot while wingers Oleksandr Karavaev and Ivan Petryak will hope to provide much needed width against an adept United back line.
Serbian attacking midfielder Zeljko Ljubenovic is expected to start in the hole in-behind talismanic striker Vladyslav Kulach.
- Manchester United have only won two of their last nine matches in the Europa League, losing six of those.
- The Old Trafford outfit are unbeaten in six matches against sides from Ukraine, winning four of those.
- United have won their last three matches against Ukrainian sides at Old Trafford and have also maintained a clean sheet in all of those games.
- Zorya, like their opponents, are on the back of a two-game winning run.
- This is the first time the Ukrainian side will be taking on an English team.
Watch out for
The Dutch winger moved to Old Trafford from PSV Eindhoven last summer, but has failed to make an impact at his new club. His finishing has deteriorated since moving to England and he seems to lack confidence with the ball at his meet.
Thus, this could be a good chance for him to prove to Mourinho why he needs to be considered as a regular in the first team. Anthony Martial has struggled down the left this season, and a couple of good performances from Memphis can see him be a key member in the United roster.
Manchester United 3-0 Zorya
The English side look by far the better outfit on paper and should easily see off the challenge from their Ukranian opponents on the day. Also with Mourinho set to field a strong team, Zorya might have their work cut out dealing with some of the best players in the world.
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