Saint Etienne v Manchester United
Wednesday 21 February, 17:00
Live on BT Sport
Something that was perhaps obscured by the Pogba v Pogba coverage last week (Saint Etienne’s Florentin took on his shy and retiring brother Paul) was that the trip to Old Trafford was a huge occasion for Saint Etienne. Les Verts haven’t won a league title since 1981, and the clash with Manchester United was an echo of the famous clashes with Liverpool and Bayern Munich in the 1970s.
Sadly from ASSE’s point of view, the romance of the occasion was swept away by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede was a scourge of Saint Etienne in his days as a PSG player (the Opta stats show he has now scored 17 career goals against them), and his hat-trick gave United a 3-0 win that almost certainly bars Christophe Galtier’s men from progress into the last 16.
However, the French side did make chances at Old Trafford, and a touch more composure in front of goal may well have yielded a better result. It’s also worth noting that the vociferous backing ASSE receive from their fans at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard tends to be a big help – Saint Etienne have only lost two of their last 19 home matches in all competitions, and they are chasing a fourth consecutive home victory after beating Angers, Lyon and Lorient.
Opta tell us that Saint Etienne haven’t overturned a three-goal first-leg deficit since the 1974-75 season, and I don’t think anyone really believes they’ll manage it here, but they will be determined to go down fighting. Galtier insists he will respect the competition and the club’s supporters, so I expect him to pick a strong team.
The United juggernaut continues to rumble forth, clearing the path to success on multiple fronts. Having already bagged the Community Shield (stop sneering at the back), Jose Mourinho’s side could add the League Cup trophy if they beat Southampton on Sunday at Wembley.
The Red Devils are the current [4.6] favourites to win the Europa League, and I think that’s actually a generous price. The market says Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk and Spurs are the greatest threats to United’s success, and that seems about right to me, with Schalke also a awkward team to face. This is where we stick the flag in the sand – I think Mourinho is determined to win this trophy, and the Champions League spot that comes with it. I’ll back him to win it at this stage.
Mourinho has built up significant momentum by successfully rotating his squad. I’ve said before on this website that I believe United have one of the strongest squads in Europe, and in terms of pure depth, I think they have the deepest roster in England. United have lost just two of their last 27 games, and they have won their last four matches, including the weekend’s comeback win at Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup.
Mourinho says Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones are unlikely to feature because of injury, and he may rest key players ahead of Sunday’s Wembley showdown.
United are the favourites to win at [2.3], but that seems a touch short given Saint Etienne’s strong home form and the ferocious support they’ll receive from their supporters. Mourinho’s men have struggled on the road in this competition. They lost at Fenerbahce and Feyenoord, but did win 2-0 at Zorya, but the hosts had been eliminated by then. If you stretch back into last season, United have lost four of their last five away games in the UEL.
You could back Home or Draw on the Double Chance market at [1.76], which gives you a winner if the hosts win or the game ends in stalemate.
Both Teams To Score
I quite fancy both team to find the net in this one. United almost always score on the road, and you have to go back to October’s 4-0 hammering at Chelsea for the last time they drew a blank on their travels. Defensively they looked shaky against Les Verts last week, and in their last 12 away games they have only kept four clean sheets.
Saint Etienne have to try to at least put on a show, and although they may keep things tight initially, I think they’ll push for goals at some stage. They have held title-chasing Monaco and PSG to 1-1 draws this season, and a similar result against storied opposition would do us just fine.
Back Both Teams To Score at [1.93]
Back Manchester United to win the Europa League at [4.6]