Manchester United travel to Russia for their Champions League group stage match against CSKA Moscow.
Manchester United come into the match on the back of a hard fought 1-0 win over Southampton in the Premier League, when Romelu Lukaku’s goal secured all three points for the visitors. The win means that United extend their unbeaten league record to six games, and now trail only neighbours Manchester City on goal difference. They kick started their Champions League campaign in style as well, defeating FC Basel 3-0 at home, courtesy of goals from Fellaini, Lukaku and Rashford.
CSKA Moscow, on the other hand, have had a mixed start to the season. They currently sit, by their standards, a lowly fourth in the league, and were knocked out of the Russian Cup by Avangard Kursk. However, they’ve saved their best for the European matches, sailing past AEK Athens and BSC Young Boys in the Champions League qualifying rounds, and seeing off Benfica 2-1 away from home in their first match of the group stage.
Manchester United have faced CSKA Moscow four times till date, and boast an unbeaten record with two wins and two draws. Their games against the Russian side have ended 1-1 and 1-0 in the last two times they’ve faced in Russia, and the last time the two sides met was in the 2015-16 Champions League when Wayne Rooney’s sole goal sealed all three points at Old Trafford.
Also, the Red Devils have lost only once against a Russian side in 11 matches, the defeat being a UEFA Super Cup loss against Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008. They’ve won three and drawn the remaining seven games against Russian oppositions, with the most recent victory coming against FC Rostov in last season’s Europa League.
Manchester United will be without long term absentees Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, while Paul Pogba is still out indefinitely with a hamstring problem. And United could be short of options in the midfield as Mourinho has confirmed that Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini will also remain side-lined, as could be Phil Jones, who recently completed his European three-game ban. Eric Bailly, however, would return to the line-up, as could Ander Herrera. This could be a big chance for youngster Scott McTominay, who could be called upon as a cover in midfield. Chris Smalling could partner Bailly at centre-back, particularly after shaky performances from Victor Lindelof.
CSKA Moscow will face United without their star right-back Mario Fernandes, who was forced off the pitch with concussion in the league draw against Dinamo Moscow on Saturday. Their only other absentee would be attacking midfielder Aleksandr Makarov, who’s side-lined with an ankle problem.
This is United second away game in a row, and they’ll be playing their next three games away as well. This means that this is an incredible opportunity for the Red Devils to finish off their opponents while they’re in form, which is evident from their last four matches in all competitions all ending in wins. CSKA Moscow aren’t an easy opponent, and United aren’t facing them with a full-strength side. But I still believe that Mourinho’s men won’t lose in Moscow tonight. It’s going to be a tight game, and a draw is the most likely scenario. An away win, however, could be the best case scenario. And that’s what I’m rooting for.