Following their impressive 3-1 victory away to rivals Arsenal on Saturday evening, Manchester United are back in action tonight as they prepare to welcome Russian outfit CSKA Moscow for their final Champions League group stage clash. Jose Mourinho’s side require just one point from their final fixture to progress to the round of 16 as group winners, although a number of changes are expected to be made, with one eye on this weekend’s upcoming Manchester derby.
The biggest blot on United’s copybook during their thrilling win at the Emirates was the sending off of influential midfielder Paul Pogba, with the France international set to sit out the next three domestic fixtures through suspension, starting with Sunday’s clash against Pep Guardiola’s side.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Mourinho confirmed that the former Juventus star will start against CSKA, although midfield partner Nemanja Matic will not play a part, due to injury.
Having almost single-handedly denied Arsenal at the weekend, goalkeeper David de Gea will be rested with Argentina international Sergio Romero set to be handed his fourth appearance of the season, whilst youngster Joel Pereira will start on the bench.
Centre-back pairing Phil Jones and Eric Bailly are believed to edging closer to a return from their respective injuries, although whether Mourinho is willing to risk the duo prior to Sunday’s derby remains to be seen. Summer signing Victor Lindelof has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks and could expect to retain his place in the starting line-up for the mid-week clash. When asked whether Luke Shaw will be handed a starting berth at left-back, Mourinho confirmed that the former Southampton man would be in the matchday squad, but stopped short of stating whether he would begin the match on the pitch, or on the bench.
Up front, striker Romelu Lukaku is going through something of a dry spell for United, with just one goal scored from his last 10 appearances in all competitions and he would do well to find his scoring boots just days before the derby. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was not included in the matchday squad against Arsenal, could be handed his first start of the season by Mourinho, should the Portuguese decide to give the Belgium international a break this mid-week.
Whilst United must avoid defeat in order to progress to the next round of Europe’s elite club competition, there can be little disputing the fact that the Red Devils’ attention will be firmly on the visit of City on Sunday and Mourinho will be extra keen to avoid any further casualties.
Having passed the Arsenal test with flying colours, United know that the next few days will prove to be crucial if they are to achieve their goals this season. Victories in their next two games will see them finish as Champions League group winners and will reduce the gap between themselves and Guardiola’s men to five points, putting them back in contention for their first league title since 2013.