United, Saints eye Euro progress

> English clubs are seek­ing to go fur­ther in Europe

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

EUROPA LEAGUE nights are a dis­trac­tion for some, given far lower prize money than the Cham­pi­ons League, but a means of stay­ing in touch for oth­ers such as Manch­ester United, who are seek­ing to reach the last 32 early to­mor­row morn­ing.

United are one of five for­mer European cham­pi­ons play­ing in what, com­pared with the Cham­pi­ons League, they view as a brides­maid’s com­pe­ti­tion.

A fifth-place finish in the English Premier League kept them away from the European game’s top ta­ble for a sec­ond straight year – last sea­son bring­ing an ig­no­min­ious exit to, of all teams, five-times European cham­pi­ons Liver­pool.

Jose Mour­inho, thus far thwarted in his am­bi­tion to be­come the first coach to win the Cham­pi­ons League with three dif­fer­ent clubs af­ter glory with Porto and In­ter Mi­lan but fail­ure with Chelsea and Real Madrid, must cur­rently eye more mod­est goals as his side host Feyeno­ord.

United stand a point be­hind the Dutch and Fener­bahce, who beat them in their last out­ing in Is­tan­bul to open up a fas­ci­nat­ing three-way bat­tle for last 32 berths.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ports yes­ter­day suggested Mour­inho would of­fer the Feyeno­ord test as a spring­board for Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, a bit-part player since his sum­mer move from Dort­mund.

“Ob­vi­ously he is not happy but he is trans­form­ing his frus­tra­tion in a good way which is close the mouth and work hard and try to adapt,” Mour­inho said of the Ar­me­nian mid­fielder.

With Fener­bahce meet­ing win­less Group A tailen­ders Zo­rya Luhansk in the other game, United need to go all out for the win if they are to keep their cam­paign on the rails.

Other English in­ter­est cen­tres on Southamp­ton, who fol­low­ing their suc­cess over In­ter Mi­lan, an­other for­mer European cham­pion forced to slum it with the B lis­ters, meet sur­prise group lead­ers Sparta Prague.

The Saints beat the Czechs 3-0 ear­lier in the tour­na­ment but since then the lat­ter have snatched three wins on the trot. A win will see Prague qual­ify – but they must first see off English op­po­si­tion for the first time in three decades.

In­ter held city neigh­bours Mi­lan to a draw which cost the lat­ter sec­ond spot in Serie A – but they them­selves lan­guish in ninth.

How­ever, a win over Is­rael’s Hapoel Beer Sheva, cur­rently a point above them, would lose the gap on Southamp­ton to a sin­gle point – if the Saints lose.

Four sides have qual­i­fied to date – Zenit Saint Peters­burg from Group D where Ire­land’s Dun­dalk can still make it – Ajax from Group G, Shakhtar Donetsk, who have dom­i­nated Group H and Schalke, yet to drop points in Group I.

Schalke meet a Nice side who will be miss­ing star striker Mario Balotelli af­ter the Ital­ian pulled a calf mus­cle in train­ing. His ab­sence will com­pli­cate Nice’s at­tempts to chase a win that would keep them in con­tention. The Cote d’Azur side are cur­rently bot­tom of the group.

The ex­panded groups for­mat has, if noth­ing else, ex­tended the creed to the far­thest-flung parts of the European game and Qarabag can be­come the first team from Azer­bai­jan to reach the knock­out phase of a UEFA event.

Gur­ban Gur­banov’s men first need a win at Czech out­fit Slo­van Liberec or else will hope PAOK Salonika of Greece drop points at lead­ers Fiorentina. – AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.