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Scouting The Opposition: Zorya Luhansk profiled ahead of Manchester United match

Manchester United will take on Zorya Luhansk for the first time in their history in the Europa League this Thursday evening. One of the smallest clubs in the competition, Zorya have never before competed in the group stages of the Europa League. Qualifying with a fourth place finish in their division last season, Zorya will want to make sure their European journey isn’t short-lived. Although they finished 22 points behind league leaders Dynamo Kiev last year, they have been steadily climbing the table each year and will want to make these European engagements a regular feature. Despite being unfancied, Zorya managed to secure a draw against Fenerbahce in the last round of matches. Yet, the quality of their opposition in this group means they will find it difficult to qualify for the next round.

Manager: Yuriy Vernydub

Since taking charge of Zorya in 2011, Yuriy Vernydub has steadily improved the squad and league position each year. From a thirteenth place finish in the 2011/12 season, Vernydub has overseen a steady rise that lifted them to fourth place last season. Vernydub has begun to turn Zorya into a real force in the Ukrainian Premier League. With a relatively young squad, average age 26, there is the potential for further development. Vernydub will hope to continue to rise in the domestic league and will enjoy the opportunity to make his mark in Europe this season. He has already demonstrated that his side will be tough to beat at home with a well-earned point against Fenerbahce.

Key Player: Oleksandr Karavaev

Since joining on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, Oleksandr Karavaev has spent the past two seasons in a Zorya shirt enhancing both his reputation and transfer value. The 24-year-old midfielder has four goals and 1 assist for the season so far. Add this to the 11 goals and eight assists last season across all competitions and it looks unlikely he will remain in Zorya colours for long. Karavaev plays primarily on the right of an advanced midfield three and will look to support the lone striker as often as possible. Recent matches have shown that United have had problems defending against wide players who will look to drift centrally to support the strikers or take advantage of goal scoring opportunities themselves. Whoever Mourinho chooses to occupy the left-back position can expect to be one of the busier United players of the evening.

Form Guide:

Zorya Luhansk 1-1 Fenerbahçe

Dynamo Kyiv 0-1 Zorya Luhansk

Zorya Luhansk 2-1 Vorskla

Predicted Starting XI:

Key Player: Oleksandr Karavaev

Since joining on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk, Oleksandr Karavaev has spent the past two seasons in a Zorya shirt enhancing both his reputation and transfer value. The 24-year-old midfielder has four goals and one assist for the season so far. Add this to the 11 goals and eight assists last season across all competitions and it looks unlikely he will remain in Zorya’s colours for long. Karavaev plays primarily on the right of an advanced midfield three and will look to support the lone striker as often as possible. Recent matches have shown that United have had problems defending against wide players who will look to drift centrally to support the strikers or take advantage of goal scoring opportunities themselves. Whoever Mourinho chooses to occupy the left-back position can expect to be one of the busier United players of the evening.

Predicted Score:

Manchester United 1-0 Zorya Luhansk

United will be on a high after a scintillating first half performance against Leicester City at the weekend.  During a frenetic period during the first half, United finally seemed to click into gear in attack and put the Foxes to the sword. There are likely to be changes to the starting eleven that faced the Premier League champions with Stoke City to come at the weekend. Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are likely to be involved from the start.

Despite the changes and a long journey to Ukraine, Manchester United should have too much quality and experience in their line-up to suffer a defeat at the hands of one of the Europa League outsiders. Mkhitaryan, in particular, will hope to erase the memories of his disastrous showing in the Manchester Derby and play his way back into Mourinho’s thoughts for the rest of the season. Fans who have made the long journey could be in for a long night as Mourinho will hope to score early and close the game out as soon as possible with future engagements in mind.

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