Rostov 1 Man United 1: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is relieved to be leaving Russia with an away goal and fully-fit squad after a tough Europa League clash on Rostov’s quagmire pitch.
The last-16 first leg in southern Russia last night proved a predictably difficult assignment, but United coped manfully on the sandy, rock-solid playing surface that infuriated the Portuguese in the build-up.
Uefa deemed the surface playable and, fortunately for European football’s governing body and Mourinho, United make the 1,875-mile journey home unscathed.
They would have also gone back with a first-leg win was it not for Aleksandr Bukharov making it 1-1, although Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s away goal could prove crucial in next week’s return leg at Old Trafford.
“We go home with a positive result,” Mourinho said.
“We know that it will be a difficult match, we know we need to win or to have a 0-0 draw, so the game is open.
“The tie is open, but in these circumstances I think it was a positive result.
“An away goal is always positive. It is better 1-1 that 0-0, obviously.
“But the game is open, the result is open and this Rostov team have experience of playing big matches, big opponents, big stadiums.
“I don’t think it is a problem for them to go to Old Trafford and to compete against us.
“They play Sunday against Terek Grozny, we play Monday against Chelsea. Who knows, we could have extra-time and 30 minutes more to play, so for us it is difficult.
“But we are one step from being in the quarter-finals, the players have that motivation.
“The fans for sure at Old Trafford will push with us. Hopefully in one week’s time, we go to the quarter-final.”
There was an air of relief from Mourinho after the testing first leg in Rostov-on-Don, even if he regularly underlined that the tie is far from over.
The immediate attention now switches to Monday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where United were humiliated 4-0 as the Portuguese made an embarrassing return to his former stomping ground in October.
Mourinho is hoping to make amends in the FA Cup quarter-final and pledged not to rely on Nicky Butt’s reserve team despite the holders’ bloated fixture schedule.
“We want to keep the two doors open,” he said, regarding the Premier League and Europa League offering routes to the Champions League.
“We have to keep getting points in the Premier League to let us go to the last months of the competition with that door open.
“In the Europa League, if we manage to go through this knock-out round, we go to the quarter-final and then you feel that the door is open.
“But now we have the Premier League top-four to fight for, the Europa League to try and beat Rostov, and Monday we don’t go with a Nicky Butt team.
“We cannot go with Nicky Butt’s team. Manchester United is too big. Manchester United is the winner of the competition.
“It is not Chelsea’s fault that we were given this Monday match, so we have to make changes for sure because we play Thursday against Rostov and they play Sunday against Terek Grozny. But we cannot go to Stamford Bridge with a Nicky Butt team.”
Rostov coach Ivan Daniliants struck a philosophical figure on a night when Vladimir Granat fractured his collar-bone and Timofei Kalachev and Aleksandr Gatskan collected bookings that will see them miss the second leg
“We were a different side in each half,” Daniliants said. “We did not play like the home team in the first one but then regrouped and started to look more like ourselves. We are disappointed that we only really played for 45 minutes and not the whole 90.”
Medvedev, Kalachev, Mevlja, Navas, Granat (Terentjevat 18), Kudryashov, Erokhin, Gatcan, Noboa, Poloz, Bukharov (Azmounat 74).
Romero, Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Young, Pogba, Herrera (Carrickat 90), Fellaini, Blind (Valencia 90), Mkhitaryan (Martial 67), Ibrahimovic.
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