Man United were held to a draw at FC Rostov in the first leg of the Europa League last-16 on a shocking pitch.
There weren’t many clear-cut chances during the game. Paul Pogba did miscue a shot inside the box early on. Although it was a rubbish pitch, United took the lead in the 35th minute. Marouane Fellaini held off a defender, before feeding Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose quick feet allowed him to poke the ball to Henrick Mkhitaryan to finish from close-range. It could be a vital away goal.
Right at the beginning of the second half, Ibrahimovic shot over the crossbar. But then, in the 53rd minute, Rostov somehow found an equaliser. Timofei Kalachev’s pass somehow went between Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Alexandr Bukharov latched onto it, before calmly controlling the ball with his chest and slotting it in.
Apart from the goal, they struggled to impose themselves against a far superior team. But, Aleksandr Erokhin did stab a shot wide for the hosts from a promising position. Also, Fellaini headed straight at the goalkeeper from a corner. Apart from that Unite didn’t really threaten and Rostov held on for the draw.
United will still be big favourites to go through to the next round. At least they will be able to play on a proper pitch in the second leg. Because of the shocking pitch, Jose Mourinho changed his team and formation. He started with three centre-backs and two wing-backs. He also said that they would have to play more “direct” as it was really difficult to play the passing game.
When picking his team, Mourinho may have had Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Chelsea in mind. He will be happy though that there were no injuries to his players and they are all fresh for that game. But, Ibrahimovic won’t be able to play because of his three match ban.
The second leg is on Thursday, the 10th of March at 19:45. Hopefully they can get the win to go through to the next round and keep their hopes of a cup treble alive. Next up for United is the quarter-final away at Chelsea on Monday, the 13th of March.