Manchester United will aim to pick up their first Europa League win of the campaign when they make the trip to face Moldovan powerhouses Sheriff Tiraspol in Thursday’s Group E contest at the Zimbru Stadium.
The Red Devils went down 1-0 to Real Sociedad on matchday one, while their hosts ran out convincing 3-0 winners over Omonia Nicosia.
Seeking to prove that their European nous is still well and truly alive after making waves in the Champions League last season, Sheriff Tiraspol recovered from their qualifying elimination in the elite continental tournament to see off Omonia with ease last week.
Iyayi Atiemwen, Rasheed Akanbi and Mouhamed Diop were all on target as Stjepan Tomas’s side quickly surged to the top of the rankings in Group E, which would propel them through to the knockout rounds for the second season running.
The standings are still in their embryonic phase, but Sheriff’s defensive resilience should come to the fore on Thursday as they aim to build on last season’s last-32 exit to Braga, and they warmed up for the contest in ideal fashion with a 2-0 Super Liga win over Milsami Orhei on Sunday.
Not since being eliminated by Viktoria Plzen in Champions League qualifying have Sheriff suffered defeat in any competition – winning six and drawing two of their eight encounters since – and their victorious streak in all competitions now stands at eight matches.
Furthermore, Tomas’s steadfast rearguard have kept a remarkable seven clean sheets in that time and have conceded just one goal in their last 720 minutes of football – not even Braga could find a way through on Moldovan turf back in February.
Man United had every right to protest the controversial award of a penalty for Real Sociedad at Old Trafford last Thursday, where the pre-game talk was dominated by the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death and whether the contest would go ahead as scheduled.
The two sides did step foot onto the Old Trafford turf to pay their respects, but the mood turned sour as Lisandro Martinez was penalised for a handball – despite the ball striking his leg first before bouncing up onto his arm – and Brais Mendez welcomed the chance to crash home the decisive spot kick.
Defeat to Imanol Alguacil’s side was quite the reality check for Erik ten Hag and co, who had previously won four on the bounce in the Premier League, and the trip to Sheriff will mark their final game before the international break following the postponement of their clash with Leeds United.
The travelling Old Trafford faithful have witnessed their side score in each of their last 15 European games on the road – not since the pre-COVID days of October 2019 have they failed to do so – but Sheriff’s unwavering defence will prove a stern examination.
Sheriff and Man United have never done battle in a competitive fixture before, and Thursday’s tie will mark the hosts’ third game versus English opposition after suffering a pair of 2-0 and 2-1 losses to Christian Eriksen’s Tottenham Hotspur in the 2013-14 Europa League group stage.
Sheriff have come through their last two fixtures without picking up any fresh injury concerns, and only goalkeeper Dumitru Celeadnic should be absent following a positive COVID-19 test.
Tomas made a plethora of changes for the weekend’s victory over Mislami Orhei, and the midfield duo of Diop and Moussa Kyabou should both return to the first XI this week.
Atiemwen – who scored off the bench in that game – is set to lead the line at the expense of Steve Ambri, but Abou Ouattara is facing a battle to regain his spot on the right following Pernambuco’s goal in league action.
Man United’s injury situation is not so simple, as striker Anthony Martial is still dealing with an Achilles problem, and the Frenchman has been left out alongside Facundo Pellistri, Donny van de Beek, Martin Dubravka, Marcus Rashford, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams.
Luke Shaw’s foot injury has let up in time for him to be a part of the squad, while Rashford’a absence ought to lead to another start for Cristiano Ronaldo in the final third.
Sheriff Tiraspol possible starting lineup:
Koval; Zohouri, Kiki, Radeljic, Kpozo; Badolo, Kyabou, Diop; Ouattara, Atiemwen, Akanbi
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Malacia; Eriksen, McTominay; Antony, Fernandes, Sancho; Rashford