The group stage of the 2017/18 Champions League are approaching the end with teams across the eight groups scrambling to seal their place in the knock-out rounds next calendar year. In group A, Manchester United welcome CSKA Moscow – needing a point to ensure progression to the last 16 – as winners of the group.
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 week with wins against Brighton, away at Watford and massive result at the Emirates against fellow contenders Arsenal. But the job is not over yet – in terms of confirming their participation in the next round in the Champions League.
The Red Devils have been strong at Old Trafford – maintaining a 100% record so far – no team in England’s 13 divisions has managed to do it and United will need to muster all that confidence to put on a display worthy of a genuine dark horse, out to win this edition of the Champions League.
CSKA Moscow have a daunting task in their hands. The Russian giants must pick up more points than Basel to ensure second place – for a start. 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, they have won all four of their games on the road so far but are aiming for the round of 16 for the first time since 2011/12.
Not to mention, their recent run of results has been encouraging as the visitors will make the long and arduous trip to Manchester with five wins and a draw in the last six games, under their belt – including a 6-0 rout in their most recent league outing.
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 while Eric Baily, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick are all still out. Nevertheless, Mourinho is expected to make plenty of changes ahead of the Manchester derby on Sunday.
For CSKA, Pontus Wernbloom and Bibras Natcho will serve a one-game suspension on matchday six. Aleksandr Golovin is a booking away from a ban.
- CSKA Moscow are winless in their five previous games against Manchester Utd (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.
- Manchester Utd have lost only two of their last 48 Champions League group games at Old Trafford (W34 D12), 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 when Real Madrid eventually knocked them out.
- 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