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March Preview: Mourinho aiming higher; revenge at Stamford Bridge?

Manchester United have a busy March schedule ahead of them after ending February undefeated with six wins and a draw. February saw United beat Saint-Etienne 4-0 on aggregate in the UEFA Europa League, earning a draw against Russian side FC Rostov in the round of 16 in the competition. A 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers in the Emirates FA Cup saw United drawn out against Chelsea in the quarter-final stage of the competition, which will be sandwiched between the two Europa League ties against the Russian side. United drew 0-0 with Hull City at the start of February, beating Leicester City 3-0 and Watford 2-0 in the Premier League. Ending February, United face Southampton in the final of the EFL Cup at Wembley, winning 3-2 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring a brace and Jesse Lingard scoring yet another goal at the national stadium. March will be difficult and at the end of the month, we will see whether United continue to fight on three fronts with one trophy in the bag already.

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth – Saturday 4th March 2017 – Premier League

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side has a good result against Manchester United least season, but in the opening match this season, United got revenge for that defeat beating the home side 3-1 with Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring their first Premier League goals of the season. Bournemouth sits 14th in the league ahead of the tie, 14 points from the safety point of 40 points which normally sees teams secure their position in the Premier League for the following season. I do not think Bournemouth will be relegated, but there is a long way to safety for them at this moment in time, a win over United at Old Trafford could put them in a good position to achieve safety this season, but with Liverpool being demolished 3-1 by Leicester City on Monday evening, United need the points more and could see them reach the dizzy heights of fifth place, at least until the result between Liverpool and Arsenal in the Saturday evening match comes out, which could be a good result for United, at least in them aiming for fourth place. A draw between the two would be equally as good but would see United take a bit longer to stay ahead of their bitter rivals who are forever in their shadows despite suggesting otherwise.

Match Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 AFC Bournemouth

FC Rostov v Manchester United – Thursday 9th March 2017 – UEFA Europa League

The Russian side sit seventh in the Russian Premier League at this stage of the season, but they have not played since the start of December and have had a two-month winter break. Their next Russian Premier League match is against Tom Tomsk on the 2nd March. Rostov have played three matches in the last two months; a 0-0 draw against PSV Eindhoven in the last group stage match of the UEFA Champions League and the two legs in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 against Sparta Prague in which they won 5-1 on aggregate. The trip to Russia, especially ahead of the visit to Stamford Bridge could be a tough tie for United and Mourinho, but he will have the players at his disposal to create a challenging side for all three matches in a seven-day period, which could see United exiting both cup competitions they still remain in this season. Rostov were in the Champions League earlier this season – sharing a group with Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, and PSV Eindhoven. The lost 5-0 and won 3-2 against Bayern Munich, drew 2-2 and 0-0 with PSV and were defeated twice; 1-0 and 2-1 by Atletico. United should have this match in the bag, away goals could give them the advantage.

Match Prediction: FC Rostov 0-3 Manchester United

Chelsea v Manchester United – Monday 13th March 2017 – Emirates FA Cup

Back in October 2016, United were destroyed by Chelsea conceding four goals throughout the match, which put some negative feedback into the lap of Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United squad. United soon found their feet weeks after the defeat opening a 17 match unbeaten run which was ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Hull City in the semi-final second leg of the EFL Cup which United won on aggregate to set up a final against Southampton. Chelsea will be a tough test for United but over recent weeks, Antonio Conte’s side have not entertained like they did earlier in the season and teams have found a way to beat them, which is something United will need to do in order to make the draw for the semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup which could put them well on their way to retaining the title they won under Louis van Gaal last season, earning at least another match at Wembley this season, which seems to be a stadium where they have some good form and results, which is what Tottenham Hotspur would have hoped for earlier in the season.

Match Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United

Manchester United v FC Rostov – Thursday 16th March 2017 –UEFA Europa League

FC Rostov visit Old Trafford in a busy seven-day period for United who travel to Russia and Stamford Bridge, before playing at home again. March is a busy month for United in that they play twice in the Premier League, have three matches in cup competitions; UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup. Remaining in both competitions is a must for a good finish this season and with United still looking to pressure their rivals in the Premier League, although winning the league is not something which will be easy, if still possible, mathematically of course. The Russian side may have exited the group stage of the Champions League earlier this season, but beating Bayern will be seen as the pinnacle of their season, which could haunt United if they do not keep an eye on them. Winning the away match in the first leg will put United in good stead at home, which should see them in the last eight of the tournament, which is one stage further than last season after losing to Liverpool in this fixture.

Match Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 FC Rostov

Middlesbrough v Manchester United – Sunday 19th March 2017 – Premier League

On New Year’s Eve, United beat Middlesbrough 2-1 with two late goals, which came after an appalling first half with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal being disallowed, but that is fine to happen for United, but not against them. Boro will be looking to get their own way at the Riverside Stadium, which could put them in a great position to secure Premier League football next season. At the time this articles was published, on the 1st March, Boro were in the 17th position in the league, only goal difference keeping them out of the bottom three. Boro play two matches in the Premier League in March – on the 4th March against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium and against United at home on the 19th March. A defeat to Stoke, who need the victory themselves, will put the hosts in a precarious position before United roll up in the North East ahead of the international break at the end of the month.

Match Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United

April looks set to be another busy month for United with five out of six fixtures being rearranged for television, which with the matches against Manchester City at the Etihad and the trip to Southampton at St Mary’s needing to find a space in the fixture list and the prospect of United earning a place in the last eight of the UEFA Europa League and the semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup, which could see the match against Burnley also being postponed next month. United are in good spirits ahead of their fixture pile-up, but the constant stream of matches could either make the side more determined to go on a cup run this season or it could go against them with not enough time to rest between matches and the squad being rotated week in and week out. Not that I am complaining. Manchester United are not yet back to their best, but in the past three seasons, this is the best United have been post-Sir Alex Ferguson.

Written by Mike Wilson

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