A Champions League tie with Shakhtar Donetsk provides a welcome distraction for Manchester United after a troubled start to the Premier League.
Defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion was a third loss in four league games for David Moyes and he will be looking for United to bounce back on what will be his first European away night.
United were victorious in their opening group game against Bayer Leverkusen and a similar performance is needed not only to silence the critics but also to take control of Group A after Shakhtar beat Real Sociedad on match day one, leaving both sides top of the table with three points.
The club’s first visit to the country was over 11 years ago when United and Dynamo Kiev played out a hard fought 0-0 draw and a similar result this time around would be more than acceptable, with the Pitmen notoriously solid at the Donbass Arena, a place they have never lost to an English side.
Long serving Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu, who quit as Inter Milan manager after the Italians were knocked out of the Champions League by United in 1999, claimed in the build-up to the match that United are incomparable to the treble winners of ’99 and likened the transitional phase he is over-seeing at Shakhtar to the situation at Old Trafford.
Henrik Mkhitaryan, Fernandinho and Willian have all left for pastures new over the past 12 months but the eight time Ukrainian champions will be tough oppoonents, with the highly rated Bernard a player to watch out for. Croatia and Shakhtar captain Darijo Srna brings swathes of experience and Luiz Adriano has been prolific up front this term.
Shakhtar’s clique of Brazilian players often grab the headlines and Alex Teixeira was the match winner in the opening group game as he scored both goals against Real Sociedad. Fellow countryman Wellington Nem, a summer signing from Fluminese, is however ruled out with a knee injury.
United are close to full strength for the tie with Marouane Fellaini, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic all rested at the weekend ahead of tomorrow’s game.
Rio Ferdinand has not travelled due to a groin injury and Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Chris Smalling could come in. Moyes has also confirmed that Robin van Persie, who made his return against the Baggies, could start.
The players should be determined to bounce back after another sub-par showing in the league on Saturday. Victory would be a huge step towards qualifying for the knock-out phase, no mean feat in recent seasons, with ten points traditionally enough to emerge from the group stages.
Quite what effect a huge round trip to Donetsk will have on United’s players is unknown and many people, including the bookies, have predicted a hard game for Rooney and co, with Shakhtar favourites for the victory.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Manchester United