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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Quarter-finals beckon for United

Red Devils can move closer to Champions League return

Manchester United's Paul Pogba
1 of 1

Europa League last-16 second leg
BT Sport 2, 8.05pm Thursday

It's official - Manchester United are as likely to qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League as they are from finishing in the Premier League's top four.

United are 15-8 in both markets and Jose Mourinho's strong squad selection throughout this Europa League campaign suggests he has always felt it likely to need this consolation prize as a realistic route back into the Champions League.

Pundits have erroneously been suggesting the Europa League was United's best chance for several months but now the odds back up their view and the Red Devils should stay focused against Rostov in their last-16 second-leg tie at Old Trafford.

Mourinho's men were satisfied with their efforts in Rostov last week, returning with a 1-1 draw on a shocking surface that has since been banned by the Russian Premier League from hosting top-level games.

"Impossible to play a passing game" was Mourinho's post-game assessment but there will be no such pitfalls at Old Trafford and a bet on United to win in a low-scoring contest may offer an alternative to taking United to triumph at short odds.

United are in the middle of a packed schedule and could be feeling tired from their efforts in Monday's 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat when Ander Herrera was deservedly sent off in the first half.

Paul Pogba was criticised for another average performance and, despite Mourinho's bizarre rants protecting the world's most expensive footballer, there is no doubt more was expected from the French midfielder.

Pogba is too good to stay quiet for long but for now United's main inspiration comes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who returns rested from a domestic suspension.

Ibra, Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should see United home but this is not a game the Red Devils need to win and an energy-saving performance looks likely with Middlesbrough next up for the Red Devils in a lunchtime Premier League clash on Sunday.

United have conceded just one goal in their last five home games - a penalty from Bournemouth's Josh King - and Rostov don't have a great amount of firepower in their ranks.

The Russians are also hampered by injury and suspension concerns, while they were often left hanging on in their Champions League group-stage away matches before dropping into this competition.

Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and PSV won the shots-on-target count by an aggregate 22-8 in Rostov's three away matches, while the visitors averaged just under 29 per cent possession in that time.

A counter-attacking approach seems certain at Old Trafford but if United stay concentrated they should reach the quarter-finals.

Manchester United to win and under 3.5 goals
1pt 20-23 BoyleSports

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Team news
Man Utd
Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are ruled out but Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns from a domestic suspension.

Aleksandr Gatskan and Timofei Kalachev are suspended and Vladimir Granat is injured. Goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanaev could return. 

Key stat
Man Utd are unbeaten in their last 22 home matches.

Pogba is too good to stay quiet for too long but for now United's main inspiration comes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who returns rested from suspension
E.W. Terms
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