Manchester United 1-0 FC Rostov: Red Devils progress to Europa League quarter-finals
Manchester United have beaten Rostov 1-0 in the Europa League last 16, progressing to the quarter-finals 2-1 on aggregate.
The Red Devils toiled to victory with Juan Mata's moment of class proving the difference on a night devoid of much excitement.
A week that started with an ill-tempered FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Chelsea - and unnecessarily arduous journey home from London - continued with what was expected to be a straightforward home clash against the unfancied Russians.
Rostov were on the back foot from the outset but were beginning to give United the jitters before Mata ended a move he started, securing a 1-0 second-leg win that sees Mourinho's men through the last-16 tie 2-1 on aggregate.
Last week United had just been pleased to make the long trip back from Russia with an away goal and without any injuries given the dreadful state of the Olimp-2 pitch.
The superb Old Trafford surface was always going to make the return leg a different prospect and so it proved in a dominant first half, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic twice hitting the woodwork as United got away 12 attempts and enjoyed 76 per cent possession.
However, it took until the 70th minute for Mata to settle growing nerves, turning home from close range having started the move just inside his own half.
There was still time for a few scares but back-up goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved United's blushes, denying substitute Aleksandr Bukharov's header before an exceptional stoppage-time save from Rostov captain Christian Noboa's free-kick.Tweets by ManUtd
Manchester United will look to finish the job in the Europa League on Thursday when Russian side FC Rostov visit Old Trafford for the second leg of their last-16 tie.
Jose Mourinho's side emerged from the Olimp-2 stadium with a 1-1 draw last week when his chief concern would have been seeing his squad sustain injuries given the state of the surface in Rostov-on-Don.
We assess the talking points ahead of the return leg.
HOW FATIGUED WILL UNITED BE?
Having travelled back from Russia late last week, United then visited Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup tie against Mourinho's old club Chelsea. Their task became even more difficult, and more exhausting, on Monday night when Ander Herrera's first-half dismissal left them with 10 men for almost an hour in their 1-0 loss. The trip back to Manchester was hardly routine either as they had to navigate the M6 overnight due to a problem with their scheduled flight, so will a gruelling few days have an impact on Thursday?
WHO WILL MOURINHO ENTRUST TO PLAY?
Mourinho still has issues in attack having deemed that Anthony Martial is not ready to feature, despite training on Wednesday, while Wayne Rooney remains sidelined with injury too. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will almost certainly play because he has another two games left to run on his domestic ban and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who scored in the first leg, has been kept fresher than most having been withdrawn moments after Herrera's dismissal at Chelsea. The much-scrutinised Paul Pogba has played every minute of United's past five games and Mourinho's staunch defence of him on Thursday suggests he will be kept in.
HOW WILL POGBA RESPOND?
The world's most expensive player bore the brunt of the criticism as United exited the FA Cup at the hands of Chelsea. His manager had claimed he was the "best player on the pitch" but the Frenchman's doubters have been underwhelmed by several of Pogba's performances since his return to Old Trafford - a fact Mourinho attributed to "envy" on Wednesday. The spotlight will therefore be on the 24-year-old once again in this fixture and it will be intriguing to see if he delivers a response to those naysayers when he takes to the field.
CAN UNITED BE RUTHLESS AT HOME?
On too many occasions this year United have failed to emerge victorious from home contests they have dominated. They have drawn seven times at Old Trafford in the Premier League and the likes of Burnley, Hull, Bournemouth, Stoke and West Ham have all earned a share of the spoils thanks to United's profligacy in front of goal. It has been a different story when Mourinho's men have played on familiar terrain in this competition as they have won all four home games and scored 12 times. More of the same will see United advance.
CAN A DEPLETED ROSTOV POSE PROBLEMS?
Rostov know that due to the current aggregate score they will need to score in Manchester and there is a clear sense that their best chance of eliminating United would have been with a triumph in Russia, where Ajax and Bayern Munich had already been beaten this season. Rostov are without a victory in their previous five away games in European competitions and are shorn of the injured Vladimir Granat and the suspended Aleksandr Gatskan and Timofei Kalachev in England. With those three pivotal figures missing, it would be a shock if United's run in this competition is ended by the Russians.
Belfast Telegraph Digital