WILLIE Duncan (@Willie_Duncan) takes up the controls as Manchester United host French side St Etienne.
Manchester United v St Etienne | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport 1
Manchester United may struggle to catch Chelsea in the race for the Premier League title, but there is still plenty of potential for Jose Mourinho’s men to enjoy a special season that is littered with silverware.
Of course, the Community Shield is already shining in the Old Trafford trophy room, while United will meet Southampton at Wembley Stadium in the League Cup final later this month; on top of that, Mourinho’s men travel to take on Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday afternoon as they seek to defend the title that they claimed back in May.
On Thursday, though, the focus is on the Europa League campaign; Mourinho is not a regular competitor in this competition, but the 54-year- old Portuguese picked up a winners’ medal the last time that he was involved – leading Porto to the trophy back in 2003.
It is no secret that Mourinho and his team will be hoping not to be playing football on a Thursday night next season as they chase down a top four finish in the Premier League and, with it, a place in the Champions League.
United, however, have never been beaten on home turf by a French team in European competition and they will be determined to preserve that proud record when they host Saint-Etienne in the first leg of this last 32 Europa League tie.
That remarkable record looks likely to be stretched here, for United have not tasted defeat in any of their last 19 home matches in all competitions, while 14 games and nearly four years have passed since the men from Manchester were beaten on home soil in European competition; that defeat came against Real Madrid in the Champions League back in 2013 – and there are no prizes for guessing who was in charge of the La Liga side on that occasion.
Christophe Galtier’s charges will be hoping to make an impact ahead of the return leg in France next week, but Manchester United boast a hugely impressive defensive record; only Schalke shipped fewer goals than Mourinho’s men during the group stages of the competition, while United have kept a clean sheet in each of their last four fixtures.
With defensive discipline at the heart of Manchester United’s recent run of fine form, Saint-Etienne could well come up short and the 19/20 quote for Mourinho’s men to win without conceding looks like a superb selection; that particular play would have seen punters profit from each of the last six games that United have won and it is certainly worth backing the hosts to make it a Magnificent Seven in Thursday’s tie.
Manchester United v St Etienne – Manchester United to win to nil (19/20 Bet Stars)