United got the 2017/18 Champions League campaign off to the best possible start against FC Basel a fortnight ago with a comfortable 3-0 win at Old Trafford. Since then, the Reds have stretched the winning run to four in all competitions by claiming victories over Everton and Southampton in the Premier League, as well as thumping Burton Albion 4-1 to reach the last 16 of the Carabao Cup. However, it won’t be easy at the VEB Arena against a CSKA Moscow side who currently sit second in Group A after beating Benfica 2-1 in Lisbon.
Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are both available for selection again after serving their respective European bans against Basel. However, Paul Pogba is still likely to be absent with a hamstring problem, while Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still ruled out with long-term injuries. CSKA’s reliable right-back Mario Fernandes is expected to play no part on Wednesday night after leaving the pitch in Saturday’s draw against Dinamo Moscow with a concussion, and attacking midfielder Aleksandr Makarov will miss the game with an ankle problem.
CSKA: After finishing as runners-up to Spartak Moscow last term, CSKA currently sit fourth in the Russian Premier Liga, having gained 20 points from their opening 11 fixtures. They go into this tie on the back of a goalless draw with Dinamo and further evidence of a mixed start to the domestic campaign was their Russian Cup exit at the hands of Avangard Kursk. Victor Goncharenko’s side seem to have saved their best efforts for Europe. CSKA cruised past AEK Athens and BSC Young Boys in the Champions League qualifying rounds without conceding a goal, before claiming that potentially crucial away win over Benfica in their first group game.
United boast an unbeaten record against the Moscow club, having won two of the four meetings with the other two matches ending all square. Most recently, in the 2015/16 Champions League campaign, the Reds drew 1-1 in Russia, while a Wayne Rooney strike was enough to hand his side a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. In the 2009/10 season, United came away from Russia with a 1-0 win courtesy of an Antonio Valencia strike, and the Ecuadorian was the hero again in the return fixture as his 90th-minute goal earned the Reds a 3-3 draw in an entertaining game.
Pretty solid – the Reds have only lost one of 11 past fixtures, winning three and drawing seven. The two victories over CSKA are mentioned above, and the other win came in last season’s Europa League against FC Rostov, as Juan Mata netted in a 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, the sole defeat came in the 2008 UEFA Super Cup, as then UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg beat Sir Alex Ferguson’s Champions League conquerors 2-1 in Monaco.
After playing away at Southampton last Saturday, the Reds will continue a busy run on the road with five of the next six games being away from home. Jose Mourinho’s men got the sequence of matches off to the perfect start on Saturday with a 1-0 win against the Saints, and the boss did not seem concerned when asked about his side’s set of away fixtures. “I’m never too worried about [whether] matches are home or away, because the number of matches is going to be the same,” he said. “It will be difficult, but it means it will be easier later [in the season].”
TALKING POINTS: CSKA MOSCOW V UNITED
Manchester United will take on CKSA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League tonight and, as ever, there is plenty to discuss ahead of kick-off. Here are six key talking points for Reds…
1: BATTLE TO TOP GROUP A
United made an excellent start to the European campaign by recording a 3-0 win over FC Basel at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford. That victory has put the Reds on top of Group A on goal difference after CSKA shocked everybody by registering a shock 2-1 away win against Portuguese giants Benfica. As such, the result in Russia this week will determine which of the teams will sit in first place heading into matchday three.
2: FOUR INJURIES FOR UNITED
Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba have not travelled to Moscow, which has added further intrigue into Jose Mourinho’s plans for central midfield. Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are most likely to start, but Scott McTominay also has a chance of featuring after boarding the plane.
Meanwhile, Phil Jones has also remained in Manchester due to a slight injury that he picked up against Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday. That suggests Eric Bailly could make his Champions League debut alongside one of Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof or Axel Tuanzebe.
3: WHO WILL BE CAPTAIN?
With regular skippers Carrick and Antonio Valencia at home, as well as previous leaders Pogba and Fellaini, it will be interesting to see who wears the armband against CSKA. David De Gea and Smalling have previously worn it on occasion, while Herrera could also be an outside choice.
4: JOSE COY ON MICKI
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored in four Europa League away matches last season, as well as the decider during the final that was officially played on ‘neutral’ territory in Stockholm, Sweden. Yes, his form on the continent is excellent, however the boss has refused to confirm if he was start tonight.
“Mkhitaryan does the press conference because he speaks Russian,” Jose told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not saying that he starts. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t.” Watch this space…
5: A TROPHY-SHAPED VENUE
CSKA have built a new stadium since United were last in town two years ago, back in December 2015. It is called the VEB Arena and, amazingly, it sits in the shadow of a skyscraper that has been designed to resemble the UEFA Europa League trophy in tribute to the Russian club’s 2005 triumph.
6: TOUGH TRIP FOR REDS
Around 600 Reds supporters will complete the long journey to Moscow, after completing the detailed process of gaining VISAs and working out travel arrangements. It will, of course, conjure memories of the club’s 2008 Champions League final success in the Russian capital and provides another new stadium for fans to visit. Make no mistake, though, this is one for the hardcore Reds. We encourage those of you travelling to share your photos online using the hashtag #RedArmy.