Can Beric come to the rescue against Man U?
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.
Robert Beric of Saint Etienne, left, goes up for a ball in a French League One soccer match in Paris in October 2015.