Two giants of English and French football face off this Thursday in the Europa League, with both looking to add the European trophy into their already illustrious trophy cabinets. Both Manchester United and St. Étienne will know that progression to the next stage of the Europa League will not come easily, but this will be a good test for each side to give a slight indication as to how far they can go.
St. Étienne have been in a recent run of good form, losing only once in Ligue 1 in seven games, with the loss coming away to high-flying Nice a few weeks ago. Their run of positive results saw them shoot up from as low as 9th to 5th; one point behind their arch-rivals Lyon, who currently occupy the Europa League spot. However Les Verts were in danger of missing out on Europe all together prior to the winter break, only picking up two wins in November through to December, so the progress they’ve made is excellent.
Christophe Galtier’s side travel to Old Trafford with the hosts in an unbeaten run of 16 Premier League games, with their last loss coming to leaders Chelsea all the way back in October. Despite the unbeaten run, the Red Devils have not moved from 6th place since November when they defeated a struggling Swansea City side. It might have seemed that an unbeaten period of 16 games is enough to put United back into the Premier League title race, but seven draws in that period means the former Champions’ League winners must stay content with a top four push.
Team news & tactics:
With no outstanding injury concerns, José Mourinho is expected to name the same side that defeated Watford 2-0 at the weekend and easily defeated champions Leicester City the week before by the same score line. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to line up once again as the lone striker against a St. Étienne side who he has an amazing record against. In his career, Ibrahimovic has scored 14 goals against Les Verts in 13 games, his favourite opposition in all competitions.
The three behind him in Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will provide goal scoring support to the big Swede whilst Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba will anchor the midfield, with the latter set to come up against his brother Florentin, who’s set to start at left back for the visitors.
The Ligue 1 side could match United’s 4-2-3-1 formation or could stick with the 4-3-3, which saw them defeat Lorient 4-0 this past weekend. Robert Beric has been included in the match-day squad but isn’t expected to start, with Nolan Roux set to be the central striker with Romain Hamouma and Kevin Monnet-Paquet supporting Roux on the wings. It seems to be that ASSE will switch formation on and off the ball with it being 4-3-3 in attack and more defensive minded 4-2-3-1 when United have possession.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
The former PSG has an impressive goal scoring record against St. Étienne (as mentioned above) and will be looking to extend his already incredible record this Thursday. With suitable service from those playing behind him, Ibrahimovic could be the difference.
Romain Hamouma (St. Étienne)
The forward has been in good form as of late picking up two goals and two assists in his last four Ligue 1 games, including one in the derby against Lyon. Whether it be on the right wing or as a centre forward, Hamouma could be vital on the counter attack and may prove to be a huge threat for Les Verts.
With both teams in good form, the hosts should have enough firepower to defeat St. Étienne, but as the Premier League season has shown us, if you set up in a certain way you could come away from Old Trafford with a draw.
A draw for Les Verts will be extremely happy with a draw this Thursday, and a score draw would be better, but unfortunately I can’t see them coming out of this with a positive result.
Manchester United 2-0 St. Étienne