WILLIE Duncan (@Willie_Duncan) takes up the controls as Manchester United travel to Russia to face Rostov on Thursday night.
Rostov v Manchester United | Thursday 18:00 | BT Sport
When the draw for the Last 16 of the Europa League was made, it is difficult to imagine that Rostov – and Russia – featured on the wish list of anyone from Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho faces former side Chelsea in an FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge on Monday night and a Europa League clash at one of the continent’s most far-flung locations is far from ideal preparation for the 54-year-old Portuguese and his side.
Eyes on the Europa prize?
United, though, cannot afford to take the tie against Ivan Daniliants’ men lightly; Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Bournemouth at Old Trafford merely highlighted that the men from Manchester are far from assured of a place in the Premier League top-four and Champions League qualification.
That, of course, is where Mourinho and United want to be and winning this competition could offer an alternative route back to the top table of European football.
It is not, though, purely for reasons of juggling priorities that United must tread carefully, for Rostov are certainly capable of springing a surprise if their opponents drop their guard.
Bayern Munich found that to their cost when they suffered a 3-2 defeat against Daniliants’ men in the Champions League group stages – a result that almost certainly cost the Bavarians top spot in Group D.
Rostov roared to a hugely impressive 4-0 win against Sparta Prague in the home leg in the previous round of this competition and Daniliants’ charges would dearly love to build a handy first leg lead against the men from Manchester.
Potential for goals galore
United, though, could well prove to be a tough nut to crack: the men from Manchester have kept a clean sheet in their last four fixtures in this competition; furthermore, United have conceded in just three of their last nine matches.
There is, though, plenty of potential for goals galore when these teams meet; United have drawn a blank in just one of their last 28 games in all competitions, while Rostov have scored 16 times in their last five.
All but one of Rostov’s six home games in European competition this term have seen more than two goals scored and the 27/20 (BetStars) quote for at least three goals to light up Thursday’s tie could offer a path to profit for punters.
Rostov v Manchester United – Over 2.5 Goals (27/20 BetStars)