Manchester United go into what is potentially their easiest game of the season to date as they face Ukrainian minnows Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League. United come into the game off the back of their biggest win of the season when they battered reigning champions Leicester 4-1 at Old Trafford and it’s certainly a win they’ll want to use to push their season in the right direction. In their first Europa League game this season United lost 1-0 away from home against Feyenoord in a game where United dominated possession, chances, and the game but kept on getting caught on the break and through a Tonny Vilhena goal, whereas Zorya Luhansk nearly caused an upset when all but a 96th minute equalizer cost them a victory over Fenerbahce.
In the game v Fenerbahce, Zorya set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with young loanee Vladyslav Kulach leading the line. Even at home, the Ukrainian team was happy to let Fenerbahce have the ball and try to break them down and in this game, it worked. They conceded nine shots on goal, four corners and only had 42% possession. Their goal came from a good recovery on the halfway line, bringing the ball forward, finished off with an absolute thunder strike from Dmytro Grechyshkin, 25 yards out into the top corner. This is obviously a great strike and would indicate United need to close down quickly and deny them long shots, but also indicates that at home they struggled to build attacks and really threaten.
Manchester United will know that a team like Zorya are not to be underestimated but in all honestly they should walk over them. It is likely that Mourinho will start with a similar line-up to the one he played in the EFL Cup against Northampton, which was:
This was set up in a genuine 4-3-3 rather than Herrera playing as a number 10. This is how United will potentially line-up especially with Rooney leading the line as he was axed from the starting XI for the Leicester game and will likely be for the game against Stoke at the weekend. United have dominated possession in most of their games this season averaging 53% with a pass completion rate of 85% and this theme is likely to continue at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Zorya will let United play and it will be up to Rooney and Co to break down the Ukranian’s defence. This is something that could prove tricky unless the midfield can create space for Rooney who has only scored one goal in six appearances this season and in the game against Northampton he missed several chances that he would have converted a couple of years ago. His shot accuracy is surprisingly high compared to the team accuracy with his sitting at 60% and the team at 43%
United’s best way of creating clear-cut chances will be through either wing play from Ashley Young and Memphis, assuming they start, or with Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick opening the game up with key passes. Memphis has struggled for confidence ever since he joined United from PSV, with the exception of the Champions League and Europa League where he excelled. The game against Brugge stands out where he cut in fantastically scoring and assisting in both legs of the qualifying. Ashley Young has been a good reliable player for United and arguably puts in the best crosses in our team but with only Rooney up front, these will become less effective against a physical team.
Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera are both good ball playing footballers who can create chances with a mixed range of passes. Both enjoy a good long shot, with both of them scoring from outside the box against Northampton in the cup and on several occasions beforehand. They both have high passing accuracy stats with Carrick having 86% and Herrera 84%. Long ball passes are unlikely to be effective in this game however with Zorya playing with 10 men behind the ball for most of the game. It’ll be this accuracy that United rely on if Memphis and Young fail to break them down on the wings.
I personally think United will win 4-0 or 5-0 with Wayne Rooney getting himself on the scoresheet in an attempt to salvage his career but, in any case, it should be a pretty straight-forward game for the Red Devils.