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Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

United could come unstuck on Rostov’s suspect surface

Europa League favourites will have to tread carefully

Manchester United and Paul Pogba could find it tough going in Russia
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Europa League round of 16, first leg
BT Sport 2, 6pm Thursday

Manchester United are warm 2-1 favourites to win the Europa League but will have to tread carefully at the exposed Olimp-2 Stadium in Rostov against decent opponents on a terrible pitch.

Rostov manager Ivan Daniliants had warned United the surface would be a problem and Jose Mourinho agreed, saying "It is hard for me to believe we are going to play on that field - if you can call it a field."

United are still odds-on favourites to secure a first-leg advantage but thay may be happy to get away with a level score and lack of injuries, and the value punt is to side with Rostov and the draw on the double chance at 11-10.

The match is a big deal for the Russians, who are competing in the knockout rounds of a major European competition for the first time in their history.

But it is also important for United, who are determined to continue their Europa League progress and maintain the insurance policy of a second potential route into next season's Champions League.

The Red Devils are fighting hard for Champions League qualification via the Premier League but have not been higher sixth since September and are 15-8 for a top-four finish.

Mourinho has omitted Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger from the travelling party but all of his other available senior players are in the squad. He admits his final selection may be influenced by the conditions he was confronted with when viewing the pitch.

The manager said Henrikh Mkhitaryan was not certain to start and there may be a temptation for him to select physical players such as Marouane Fellaini and Marcus Rashford, who may cope better with the surface.

Rostov took their training session elsewhere but will be far more accustomed to conditions.

They have lost just one of their seven European home games this season and achieved a stunning 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich on Champions League matchday five.

Bayern went into that game needing a victory to keep alive their hopes of winning the group but struggled to cope with the conditions and made mistakes at key moments in the game.

Rostov wrapped up third place in the group with a 0-0 draw away to Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven, and they were very impressive over the course of a 5-1 aggregate victory over Sparta Prague in the Europa League round of 32.

They are up against much better players this time and must find a way to shackle United talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is a confirmed starter for the visitors.

But Rostov have shown good ability during their European campaign and may give United far more problems than the odds suggest.

Recommendation
Rostov or draw double chance
1pt 11-10 Betway


Team news
Rostov
Winger Dmitri Poloz was did not feature in Friday's 6-0 win at Tom Tomsk but should return to the side.

Manchester United
Jose Mourinho has confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to serve a three-match domestic ban, will start. Eric Bailly is suspended and Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger have not travelled.

Key stat
Rostov have lost one of their seven European home games this season

Rostov manager Ivan Daniliants had warned United the surface would be a problem and Jose Mourinho agreed
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