The group stage of the 2017/18 Champions League is approaching the end with teams across the eight groups scrambling to seal a place in next spring’s knock-out rounds. In group A this week, Manchester United play host to CSKA Moscow. United need just one point to ensure progression to the last 16 as group winners.
United on a roll
If you had told me after the dull defeat to Basel on matchday five that Manchester United would go on to win their next three games—a mixed bag of fixtures ahead of the final encounter against CSKA Moscow—I would have scarcely believed it. But they ended up having a perfect run with wins against Brighton, away at Watford and massive result at the Emirates against fellow contenders Arsenal. Yet the job of confirming their participation in the next round in the Champions League is still ahead.
The Red Devils have been strong at Old Trafford, maintaining a 100% record so far. No other team in England’s 13 divisions has managed that. But José Mourinho’s men will need to muster all that confidence again this week as they look to put on a display worthy of a genuine dark horse and stay on the road to winning this edition of the Champions League.
Moscow will be motivated
CSKA Moscow have a daunting task in their hands. The Russian giants must pick up more points than Basel to ensure second place. And that’s just for starters. If both win, CSKA must win by a margin of three goals to go through in the three-way head-to-head and by a margin of five goals to finish top. Their away form in Europe this year has been impressive—CSKA have won all four of their games on the road so far—but this is new ground for them now. The Moscow club are aiming to qualify for the CL round of 16 for the first time since 2011/12.
Still, CSKA’s recent run of results has been encouraging to their supporters. The visitors will make the long and intimidating trip to Manchester with five wins and a draw in their last six games in all competitions. That includes a 6-0 rout in their most recent league outing.
Last time out
When the two sides met in the reverse fixture in Russia, it was Manchester United who came out on top, outclassing CSKA 1-4, in a goal-fest.
Jesse Lingard is a booking away from a ban in CL, while Eric Baily, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick are all still out. Paul Pogba—notoriously red-carded out of the coming PL derby with Manchester City—is reported to be available. Nevertheless, Mourinho is expected to make plenty of changes with the derby looming on Sunday.
For CSKA, Pontus Wernbloom and Bibras Natcho will serve a one-game suspension on matchday six. Aleksandr Golovin is also one booking away from a ban.
- CSKA Moscow are winless in their five previous games against Manchester United (D2 L3), all in the Champions League group stages. They have also failed to keep a clean sheet in their five games against the Red Devils.
- United have lost only two of their last 48 Champions League group games at Old Trafford (W34 D12); those losses coming against Besiktas in November 2009 and Cluj in December 2012.
- CSKA Moscow have failed to reach the knockout stages in their previous four Champions League appearances. The last time they made the Round of 16 was in 2011/12, losing eventually to José Mourinho’s Real Madrid side.
- A point against CSKA Moscow will guarantee top spot for Manchester United in Group A. They haven’t reached the knockout stages of the competition since 2013/14.
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Rashford has been impressive this season under Mourinho with his evolution as an all-round forward at Manchester United going as well as he had have liked. The Wythenshawe born 20-year old has been rested in the last few games – but is morel likely to get a run out in midweek to get his match fitness up to speed – ahead of the vital Manchester derby in which he has already scored a winner in his debut season.
His directness will be crucial for United to settle the match as early as possible on Tuesday night.
Vitinho – CSKA Moscow
24-year old Brazilian forward Vitinho has been impressive for CSKA in recent weeks – scoring 7 and creating 3 for the Russian side in the domestic league (top scorer). Having scored a brace in CSKA’s recent 6-0 win against FC Tosno, it will be interesting to see if he could rattle the cocksure Old Trafford crowd with a similar display to propel his team into the last 16.
United should have enough in their tank to win this game even with a heavily changed starting eleven.
Manchester United 2-1 CSKA Moscow