Europa League Preview : Saint-Etienne v Manchester United
Sadly, there isn’t that much to play for in this weirdly-scheduled return leg of the Europa League round of 32, as Manchester United take a 3-0 lead to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Almost inevitably, this was from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat-trick as he continues to consider les Verts his personal scoring challenge.
It all started 15 minutes in, when Ibrahimovic’s low free-kick was deflected by Vincent Pajot, wrong-footing Stephane Ruffier, who sort of sat down, and despite Loic Perrin’s best efforts, the ball rolled gently over the line. The visitors were playing with Romain Hamouma as the central striker, and put in a good display in the first half. However, while they made some good chances, they failed to capitalise – in fact, failed to get a shot on target throughout. Meanwhile, Pogba (Paul) went close a couple of times, and Manchester United turned the screw in the second half: Marcus Rashford sent in a low cross for Ibrahimovic to tap in his second, and the man himself won and converted a late penalty to make it 17 goals in total against ASSE, including three hat-tricks.
So, that’s a hell of a scoreline to make up. Saint-Etienne may have beaten Lorient 4-0 and, more surprisingly, Toulouse 3-0 recently, but this is a very different proposition. After losing to Montpellier last weekend, and preparing to face Caen on Sunday, Christophe Galtier has still named a strong squad, but will probably change things around a bit. Jorginho is suspended for the weekend after his red card at the Mosson, so should get another start, and Hamouma may get a rest, with Robert Beric expected to turn out for at least one half, having made an appearance at the weekend after his hamstring injury.
Manchester United have the League Cup final against Southampton, and Jose Mourinho will naturally be focused on that, but instead of the traditional ‘playing the kids’ approach in such circumstances, may be looking at another demographic, per the club’s (slightly sarcastic?) squad announcement: “Ander Herrera misses out due to suspension but there are plenty of other options in midfield, including Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger.” Mourinho rolled out the French in his press conference yesterday, reminiscing about previous visits to the stadium, its atmosphere and ambiance – but also saying bluntly “playing normally, it’s a mission impossible for Saint-Etienne” (a quote strangely left out of the club’s write-up).
Saint-Etienne could win this, if Manchester United choose cruise control, but a reversal of the first leg does look impossible. Also, the possibility that Ibrahimovic gets an 18th goal against les Verts can’t be ruled out. Last week, the Stephanois faithful took over Manchester to support their team; this week, it can be safely assumed that the stadium will live up to its nickname « le Chaudron », despite the early kick-off.
ASSE : Maisonnial, Ruffier, Moulin – Theophile-Catherine, Polomat, Lacroix, Pogba, Perrin, Malcuit, Pierre-Gabriel – Pajot, Saivet, Veretout, Selnaes, Lemoine – Roux, Hamouma, Monnet-Paquet, Jorginho, Beric.
MUFC : De Gea, O’Hara, Romero; Bailly, Blind, Fosu-Mensah, Rojo, Smalling, Valencia, Young; Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Lingard, Schweinsteiger; Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rashford.