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Connections: Saint-Etienne – Just why did the Reds play a ‘home’ fixture at Plymouth’s Home Park in 1977?

The Premier League takes a back seat for the next couple of weeks at least as Manchester United embark on the first of four back-to-back cup games when they welcome French side Saint-Etienne to Old Trafford on Thursday in the Europa League. The Reds made it 16 league games unbeaten at the weekend as they beat Watford 2-0 at the Theatre of Dreams, thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial and Jose Mourinho will be hoping to keep that run of good form going on the European stage.

The game against the Ligue 1 outfit is the first of two legs. Sandwiched between the two-legged affair is the short trip to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round before a visit to Wembley on the 26th February to face fellow Premier League side Southampton in the final of the EFL Cup.

Unlike Manchester United, St Etienne topped their respective group after going unbeaten through the group stages and currently sit fifth in the French top flight following their 4-0 victory over bottom side Lorient over the weekend. Let’s take a look at a couple of things that connects the two teams, starting with a family rivalry.

Pogba v Pogba

When Manchester United were drawn against Saint Ettience in the round of 32 in the Europa League, it set up the first meeting between the two teams in 40 years whilst also being the first on-field meeting between brothers Florentin and Paul Pogba. The pair are two-thirds of a trio of footballing brothers, the other being Mathias who plays for Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam and is also the twin of Florentin. Paul, the younger of three at 23, got his record-breaking move to Old Trafford in the summer however despite his other brothers having successful careers, they don’t come close to the United midfielder, in terms of talent and much more. Floretin has spent his entire career thus far in France. He started out at Sedan before moving to current club St Etienne while Mathias has had stints in England and only last season turned out for Scottish side Partick Thistle.

United’s French midfielder has two goals to his name at Old Trafford in the Europa League this season, Florentin, a centre-back by trade, will be hoping to nullify his younger sibling come Thursday evening.

Last game played between these two sides – At Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park

By virtue of winning the 1977 FA Cup Final, Manchester United qualified for the following seasons European Cup Winners’ Cup, a competition that was contested by the most recent winners of all the European domestic cup competitions. The Reds were paired up against French side St Etienne in the first round which they took a 1-1 draw back to England following the first leg in France however the game was marred by crowd trouble and United were thrown out of the competition, only to be reinstated a few days later on the condition that they played their ‘home’ leg at least 200 miles away from Old Trafford.

A request to use Celtic Park in Glasgow was turned down by UEFA, and the Red Devils eventually agreed on playing the match at Plymouth’s Home Park – some 280 miles away. United won the game 2-0, thanks to goals from Stuart Pearson and Steve Coppell but were knocked out in the following round by FC Porto.

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