Can Beric come to the res­cue against Man U?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SA­MUEL PETREQUIN

PARIS — While Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic was scor­ing a hat trick in Manch­ester United’s win over Saint-Eti­enne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ance at Old Traf­ford was barely no­ticed.

Still reel­ing from a ham­string in­jury, Beric’s cameo had lit­tle im­pact as Ibrahi­movic ended Sain­tE­ti­enne’s 10-game un­beaten run in Europe by 3-0.

Beric’s con­di­tion has im­proved since the heavy loss, and he fea­tured in a French league game in Mont­pel­lier last week­end. The 1976 Euro­pean Cup run­ner-up is hop­ing that’s enough for Beric to help it over­turn their deficit against United on Wed­nes­day in the last-32 re­turn leg.

Beric, a ver­sa­tile cen­tre-for­ward ca­pa­ble of play­ing with his back to goal and cre­at­ing, joined Sain­tE­ti­enne last sea­son. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his fi­nal sea­son with Rapid Vi­enna, but was un­able to repli­cate the feat in the French league be­cause his pro­gres­sion was abruptly stopped by a se­ri­ous right knee in­jury.

He is ex­pected to start Wed­nes­day af­ter his team­mates man­aged to force United goal­keeper Ser­gio Romero into only a sin­gle save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skil­ful and as­tute in front of goal that we all want to give him a start­ing nod,” for­mer Sain­tE­ti­enne striker Herve Rev­elli, now a club am­bas­sador, told L’Equipe.

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its bla­tant lack of ef­fi­ciency. Rev­elli in­sisted Beric can make a dif­fer­ence.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Rev­elli said.

With an es­ti­mated bud­get of close to 70 mil­lion eu­ros, Sain­tE­ti­enne sim­ply can’t af­ford the ser­vices of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French cham­pion for a re­ported six mil­lion eu­ros, Beric be­came the third most ex­pen­sive player signed by the club.

A hum­ble player and a man of few words, Beric is some­what the op­po­site of the self-in­fat­u­ated Ibrahi­movic.

Un­like Ibrahi­movic, who once said he will be “God of Manch­ester,” Beric rarely speaks about him­self and his rare com­ments on so­cial net­works are lim­ited to praise of his team­mates and Saint-Eti­enne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this sea­son back in Septem­ber, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Rev­elli is count­ing on his in­stinct for goals.

“With him in a fin­isher role, I firmly be­lieve in our chances,” said Rev­elli.

Here are some other things to watch: STOP­PING IBRAHI­MOVIC Saint-Eti­enne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahi­movic, but his­tory does not favour the home side.

Dur­ing his time in France with Paris Saint-Ger­main, Ibrahi­movic was the scourge of Saint-Eti­enne, scor­ing 14 goals in 13 games in all com­pe­ti­tions. He now has 17, in­clud­ing three hat tricks.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to neu­tral­ize him. There is a pos­si­bil­ity that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Sain­tE­ti­enne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s in­side Zla­tan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a Euro­pean Cup game.” ROMA vs. VILLARREALL Like United, Roma is on the brink of the Europa League last 16 fol­low­ing its 4-0 win in Spain.

With Vil­lar­real look­ing for its first ever win in Italy, and Roma striker Edin Dzeko in the form of his life, there is not much sus­pense left. Much of the pre-match talk has con­cen­trated on a far big­ger is­sue in the Ital­ian cap­i­tal: The fu­ture of Francesco Totti.

The 40-year-old player will be out of con­tract at the end of the sea­son and Roma coach Lu­ciano Spal­letti told Ital­ian me­dia he will leave the club if Totti is not of­fered an­other year.

“Totti has a pact of love with this city, and this is some­thing that has to con­tinue,” Spal­letti said. TOT­TEN­HAM vs. GENT Gent won the first leg 1-0. De­spite the in­ten­sity of the English Premier League and an on­go­ing deep run in the FA Cup, Tot­ten­ham man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino wants his team to con­tinue fight­ing on all fronts, es­pe­cially with a ticket into the Cham­pi­ons League on offer for the Europa League win­ner.

“On Thurs­day we have an­other fi­nal at Wem­b­ley,” Po­chet­tino said of the match with Gent. “We need to use all our en­ergy to find a way to the next round.”

Spurs have never lost to a Bel­gian side at home.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Robert Beric of Saint Eti­enne, left, goes up for a ball in a French League One soc­cer match in Paris in Oc­to­ber 2015.

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