Henrikh Mkhitaryan was on target as Manchester United drew 1-1 with Russian club Rostov in the first leg of their Europa League Last 16 clash.
Mkhitaryan, who was a surprise starter after being declared fit, finished up a swift move which involved Fellaini beautifully chesting down a Jones long ball, passing it towards Ibrahimovic, who created a sublime assist for Mkhitaryan, who only had to tap the ball in from close range.
United tried to finish the tie in the second half, but were left ruing as Aleksandr Bukharov equalised eight minutes into the second half. Rostov created a goal out of nothing, as Bukharov perfectly timed his run past Jones and Smalling, chesting the long pass from Kalachev and slotting the ball beautifully past Romero.
The tie is now firmly in balance ahead of next week’s second leg at Old Trafford.
Here are the major talking points from the match.
Mourinho eyes Europa League title
It was clearly evident from the team sheet that Mourinho’s topmost priority at the moment is the Europa League. He put out a strong XI against Rostov, even though the FA Cup tie against Chelsea is only 4 days away.
Mourinho had stated before the match,“It is hard for me to believe we are going to play tomorrow in that field – if you can call it a field.” He was clearly unhappy, and you could see why. The pitch at the Olimp-2 Stadium was hardly of the standard of a European tie, however, United players luckily left the pitch unscathed, much to Mourinho’s relief.
New alternative formation
United went into the match with a 3-5-2 formation, with Mourinho using three defenders for the first time during his United reign. Young and Blind played as wing backs, while there was a midfield trio of Herrera, Pogba and Fellaini. Mkhitaryan was responsible for the link up between the midfield and Ibrahimovic up front. The new formation was perfect, until Rostov scored the equaliser. However, the new formation clearly proved to be a good back-up option for any such ties in the future.
Next leg unpredictable
Even though United have an away goal advantage, the tie is far from over. Rostov, who defeated Bayern Munich and drew with PSV twice in the Champions League this season, could prove to be tricky visitors particularly because United are expected to start their best players at Stamford Bridge, just 72 hours before the second leg.