Jose Mourinho talked in an interview on Thursday about walking into a “sad club” last May and how, even 10 months on, “we are not ready to be Manchester United, not ready to be a dominant force”.
“There is a space between the general ambition of such a giant club and what we are in reality,” the United manager said. Anyone who watched United crowbar their way into the Europa League quarter-finals here against a spirited but limited FC Rostov will understand what Mourinho means.
Convincing this was not, the night following a similar theme to many games at Old Trafford this season, with United carving enough chances to put the game to bed in the first half but that familiar wastefulness leaving them vulnerable in the second period.
An uncomfortable finish was summed up by the sight of Phil Jones playing the final half an hour at left wing back and United, ultimately, were indebted to a few very good saves from Sergio Romero to keep the Russians at bay either side of Juan Mata scoring in the 70th minute. Paul Pogba also hobbled off with a hamstring injury.
Still, with the club sixth in the Premier League and facing a battle to finish in the top four, this competition may represent United’s best route back into the Champions League next season. The draw in Nyon today is unlikely to throw up too much for Mourinho to be concerned about, with Celta Vigo, currently 11th in La Liga, and Genk, 7th in Belgium’s top tier, among the sides they could face in the last eight.
Elsewhere in that interview, Mourinho said his predecessors “bought players that I would never buy” – a nod, no doubt, to more change at Old Trafford this summer - but also bemoaned the sales of Angel Di Maria, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, a trio he insists he would never have offloaded.
Di Maria would certainly bring added pace and dynamism to United’s attack but creating chances has not really been their problem this season. Taking them has, and after watching another frustrating first half at Old Trafford where his side carved open the opposition but had nothing to show for it, it is easy to understand why Mourinho wishes he had a natural predator like Hernandez at his disposal.
“We need to kill matches and kill opponents,” the manager said. “If you don’t kill, you are killed.”
Mourinho says he is playing “the other way round” to how he did at some of his past clubs, where he admitted the priority was “being safe, being in control and waiting for the mistake, I bite you, goodbye”, but added that he won’t experience “complete pleasure” at United until they discover a ruthless streak.
Ten months into reign, it is taking longer than he would like to find it. In fairness, luck shied away from them in an opening period when Rostov parked the bus. Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have been awarded a penalty after being pushed in the back by Nikita Medvedev, the Rostov goalkeeper, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was unfortunate to see a blistering drive cannon back off the inside of the far post.
But Ibrahimovic also hit a post from close range and Mkhitaryan should have done better when released by a wonderful first time pass on the half volley from Juan Mata only to clip his shot wide of a post as Medvedev advanced. Mata and Antonio Valencia bullied Rostov down United’s right, with the Spaniard cutting inside to good effect, but Paul Pogba blew hot and cold again, flunking one free-kick and over-hitting a simple pass to release Daley Blind but also forcing a good save on the cusp of half-time.
That would be about the sum of Pogba’s contribution. A couple of minutes after the restart, the Frenchman pulled up holding his right hamstring after chasing a ball and had to be substituted. Having been flogged this season and recently shown signs of fatigue as a consequence, it is probably no surprise Pogba’s body finally gave way. A rest, in truth, may be no bad thing for him, time to recharge his batteries after a troubled spell, even if Mourinho will hope his absence is short-lived.
Rostov had offered little going forward. They were missing the suspended pair of Timofei Kalachev and Aleksandr Gatskan and found Mourinho’s 3-4-3 formation a relative handful but, dogged and disciplined, they remained in the game and when Sardar Azmoun drew a fine diving save from Sergio Romero in the 54th minute it was a reminder to United of the perilous nature of the scoreline.
Moments later came another warning, with Christian Noboa drilling a shot at Romero. Having got to the hour mark in just the position they would have hoped, Rostov began to up their tempo. Aleksandr Bukharov, their scorer in the first leg, was introduced and only a terrific block from Eric Bailly prevented Romero from being called into action to deal with Dmitri Poloz’s thumping drive.
United eventually got the breakthrough they craved when Ibrahimovic sprayed the ball out wide to Mkhitaryan before flicking the Armenian’s cross into the path of Mata to tap home. Even then only an excellent save from Romero to deny Bukharov and then Noboa with the last kick of the game prevented this tie from going to extra-time. Not ready to be Manchester United? Mourinho is right on this evidence.
FT Manchester United 1 Rostov 0 (agg 2-1)
That will not join the pantheon of 'great European nights at Old Trafford', but United are through after Juan Mata's goal.
Time on ball (at full time)
Average touch positions (full time)
Superb effort from Noboa
With the last kick of the game, Noboa goes up and over the wall but Romero gets across well to palm away. Fantastic effort.
Rostov win a free kick
Jones clatters into the back of his opposite number when competing for an aerial ball. Looked hard. 35 yards out just right of centre. Noboa over it.
Four minutes added time
Can Rostov muster anything or will we all be put out of our misery?
Bailly slides in trying to nick the ball and it looked as if his left knee folded underneath him. He is up and about though, thankfully.
United closing in a last-eight place. Winning this tournament as well as the EFL Cup would surely make this a successful first season for Mourinho, even if United still look a long way short of a polished, top-level side.
Ironic cries of shoot as Phil Jones picks up the ball 40 yards from goal. Tries to dribble on the outside, but needs to realise using the inside of your right foot when it's pointing towards the corner flag will not work on the left wing. Shovels it straight out for a goal kick.
There are nerves in the Old Trafford crowd every time Phil Jones is asked to receive possession in his own half. Lovely piece of chest control sets United on the attack but Mata could not quite find Mkhitaryan with the pass. The former Dortmund man would have been clean through.
Yet another stoppage in the game as Mkhitaryan is down after running into a Rostov body. He looks fine to continue, however.
BIG ROSTOV CHANCE
Bukharov made a run towards the near post and met a Rostov cross some deep with a glancing header towards the far corner. Romero did really well to get down and tip around the post. Corner comes to nothing.
Mata scoops a ball over the top, but Mkhitaryan but he couldn't quite get there.
Rostov were starting to build in confidence before Mata's goal but they have offered little since. Of course, that old cliche about the goal not changing anything is complete rubbish. If Rostov score they face extra-time, rather than going through in 90 minutes.
Time on ball (60 - 75 min)
I'm obliged by the laws of football to say at this point, 'that goal does not change much for Rostov'.
I think we have a footballing first however. Mourinho peeled a banana and passed to Ashley Young who was warming up on the touchline, who relayed it to Rojo for him to eat. All that money spent on sports science and they dipped into the fruit bowl to solve the issue.
Man Utd break the deadlock thanks to a goal from Juan Mata - 1-0.
Mata gives United the lead
A loose pass from Rostov in midfield gives United the chance to break through Mata who sprays the ball wide for Mkhitaryan. His low cross is backheeled towards by Ibrahimovic at the near post but Mata was on hand at the back post to slam into the roof of the net.
Bukharov's touch let him down when it looked as though he had a yard to shoot from inside the area.
Ashley Young was also ready to come on, but was then told to sit back down by Mourinho.
Herrera tries to play a one-two with Valencia but his return pass is behind its target and goes for a throw in. Turgid stuff at present, but with United through as things stand there is no cause for emergency. Rashford coming on for Mata.
Good block from Bailly, as Rostov start to grow in confidence. Jones replaced Blind, which means he is playing left wing-back despite Rojo being on the pitch.
Bukharov on for Azmoun, which for those of you unfamiliar with the pair is height replacing pace. Phil Jones is also stripped and ready to enter the fray for United. Bukharov looks a little bit Nikola Zigic-esque.
Time on ball (45 - 60 min)
Marcus Rashford, called up to the England squad today, is warming up. All in all, an odd situation. United have been quite average but do not look in too much danger. The game is just drifting along. The flow of the game has not been helped by numerous stoppages - this time Blind is down after a head knock.
The Stretford End chanting Fellaini's name in affectionate tones - it has not always been that way in his United career. Ibrahimovic shrugs Mevlja aside like he's a rag doll in the inside left channel but Medvedev claims his low cross.
Little Rostov threat
It's been a mismatch at Old Trafford so far
Man Utd are dominating this game, firing in a total of 15 shots compared to three from Rostov so far.
Herrera finds Valencia with another raking switch of play. Inch perfect cross from the right back onto the head of Ibrahimovic, but he can't quite get over it and his header from 10 yards out flies over.
Sir Alex Ferguson looking on and looking rather cold in the director's box. From nowhere, Rostov threaten. Azmoun cuts inside from the right onto his stronger left foot and curls a shot towards the far corner that Romero did well to save. Moments later Noboa got his knee over a volley from 25 yards, but it was straight at the United goalkeeper,
No change of shape from Mourinho at half time. Still playing with three centre backs, who are very conservative in their positioning then United have the ball. They are staying within 10 yards of each other as if attached by rope.
Fabulous feet from Mkitaryan to skip past three Rostov players through the heart of the pitch, but over-hits his pass to Ibrahimovic. A timely injection of tempo from the Armenian.
Pogba has pulled up here. Seldom does a player continue when that happens, and Fellaini is on to replace him. Pogba holding his hamstring as he walks off.
We're under way in the second half
Rostov get us going again. United kicking towards the Stretford End as per usual in second halves.
Change of shape in the offing?
United have retained possession with ease all evening, because Rostov have not contested the midfield and their shape means Valencia and Blind are easy out-balls on the flanks.
Their only route to goal has been crosses, and Rostov have defended them stoutly with their goalkeeper Medvedev willing to come and punch. United need Mata or perhaps Herrera to drop deeper and get them flowing through the centre of the pitch - much like Guardiola moved De Bruyne deeper when City were struggling.
James Ducker's thoughts
Some first time pass on half volley from Mata to release Mkhitaryan that. In keeping with theme all season at OT, chance goes begging tho
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) 16 March 2017
Valencia and Mata have been very good down the right for United but still no breakthrough. They need a goal
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) 16 March 2017
Time on ball (first half)
Average touch positions (half time)
Rostov were unadventurous in the first 45
Rostov managed just a solitary, off-target shot in the first half.
HT: Man Utd 0 Rostov 0
Pogba curling shot from 20 yards is palmed away by Medvedev, but there was not time to take the corner. That's that for starters.
1 minute added time
Rostov stitch together a nice attack but it breaks down when Erokhin attempts a ludicrous effort from thirty yards.
Rostov finally respond
The visitors finally have a shot - Man Utd had already fired in 12 without reply.
Berramyan for once got forward but gave the ball away which left green grass from Mkhitaryan to break into, but again United can't find the final ball. Mourinho struggling against the 'parked bus' in this first half.
Mata fouled about 25 yards from goal, left of centre and very close to where the free kick earlier in the half was given. Pogba takes this time but his side-footed effort balloons over the bar.
Fine sliding challenge from Pogba on Noboa who had no Rostov player supporting him on the counter-attack. However, that meant they had 10 players behind the ball as United tried to counter the counter. Still no way through.
That's how many crosses, exactly. More United possession, but Rostov have all 11 players behind the ball. Very little creativity from central areas for United - you expect more guile from Mata and Pogba.
Man Utd making inroads into the visitors' territory
The home side are starting to get hold of the ball in the final third against Rostov.
Very nearly the opening goal from the right boot of Ibrahimovic. He was in the left channel, and could have squared for Mkhitaryan who was steaming through alongside him, but instead unleashed a shot that cannoned off the inside of the far post.
Time on ball (15 - 30 min)
Valencia's cross is a little to high for Mkhitaryan who was one of several United players in the box. Old-school United football on show tonight - they have crossed the ball at least a dozen times.
Rostov are starting enjoy a little more possession, which might actually suit United due to the space they will leave on the break. The game has certainly had a bit more cut and thrust these last few minutes.
It was very sly from the goalkeeper. The ball was dropping out of the sky and Medvedev gave Mkhitaryan a little shove in the back as he was poised to challenge for it.
United then carve out their best chance of the game with a classic up-back-and-through. Valencia into the feet of Ibrahimoivc, his lay off found Mata who picked out the third-man run of Mkhitaryan. Clean through in the right channel he dinked the ball first time past the goalkeeper, but it drifted past the far post.
United penalty appeal turned down. Rostov's goalkeeper Medvedev looked to have shoved over Mkhitaryan, but nothing given.
United's shots so far
Tremendous defending at the back post from Terentjev to hook clear Ibrahimovic's dangerous cross from the right. Blind was flying in behind him and look set to meet it on the volley. Pogba penalised for shirt-pulling at the resulting corner.
There are relatively few goals scored in Russian football, perhaps due to the weather or state of the pitches, but Rostov have been quite stubborn so far. For all the easy possession and crosses, United are yet to cut through them. The Russian side look like a team who are used to defending.
Rostov are understandably trying to defend narrow, but that means United can find their wing-backs with switches of play at will. Mostly its Valencia, but this time Blind receives the ball and stands up a cross with United bodies flooding forward, but Medvedev did well to come and claim above Pogba.
Rostov's best moment as Bayramyan gets in behind Rojo on the overlap but his low ball across the area finds nobody - a tentative warning for United there. Rojo and Blind need to communicate better than that.
Mata lofts a beautifully weighted ball over the top - it's a race between Ibrahimovic and the goalkeeper and the Swede wins it. Heads it past him and gets into the area, but the angle is narrowing by the second. Checks back inside, and his attempted chip is deflected behind for a corner. If Ibrahimovic is running you in behind then you are in trouble.
Time on ball (0 - 15 min)
Valencia gets the better of Kudryashov once again, but his cross into the centre of the area is headed away. Another stoppage due to a Rostov injury - Mourinho will get frustrated if there are many more of these.
Man Utd are dominating the ball so far
Man Utd are letting the ball do the work - they've had 148 touches compared to just 58 for Rostov.
Early United domination
Corner comes to nothing and there was a further stoppage for a Rostov injury. Herrera finds Valencia on the overlap once again but his low cross is cut-out at the near post. A question of when not if, so far.
Ibrahimovic went for goal with the free-kick and side-footed it straight into the wall. Prepelita stays down for a while having been winded in the wall. From the re-start, United attack through Valencia down the right flank who wins a corner.
United enjoying all the possession so far, which is something three at the back tends to facilitate. Could be a long night for Rostov who are not really offering much besides a hopeful rearguard.
Terentjev penalised for handball. United have a free kick about 25 yards from goal but 10 yards or so left of centre.
United go direct to Ibrahimovic in the left channel and he finds Pogba's run with a cute reverse pass. He tries to find Mata with a cut back but Rostov clear and United have a corner. Blind to take. Outswinger from the left and Rojo plants a powerful header towards goal that Medvedev did well to palm away. Rebound dropped to Ibrahimoivc who struck the post from an acute angle.
Pogba sprays a diagonal to Valencia within the first minute (also known as the Wayne Rooney special). It is indeed the 3-4-3 that Mourinho promised, and Rostov manage to settle into some early possession.
Rostov have just three outfield players on the bench. We are under way.
Teams in the tunnel
Sir Alex Ferguson and Dimitar Berbatov among those in attendance at Old Trafford. The Stone Roses' This Is The One concludes, and the two teams make their way onto the immaculate playing surface. The Russia federation incidentally, have since banned Rostov from playing on their home pitch.
Mourinho handed a gift to Rostov coach Ivan Daniliants in the tunnel, who he met as Inter coach when they played Rubin Kazan in the Champions League in 2010. We'll never know what was in the box, but Mourinho said he was reciprocating the 'very nice' gift he received in Russia. Somewhere, Roy Keane is fuming about the fraternity on show between the two benches.
More Pogba tittle-tattle
Owen Hargeaves says Paul Pogba is a £90 million 'gift' for Manchester United. I think a gift is when somebody else buys the present, Owen.
Looks like three at the back
BT Sport say Mourinho has confirmed that United will be playing with three at the back with Valencia and Blind as wing-backs. Many assumed the system was a bespoke idea for the trip to Chelsea in the FA Cup, but the former Chelsea manager clearly saw promising signs.
What's going on with Paul Pogba?
In a strong field, Mourinho's rebuttal of Pogba's critics was among the most bizarre and ill-advised things he has ever said.
The United manager understandably wanted to defend his player, and he could have pointed to any one of: his undoubted talent, the number of starts he has made for two of Europe's biggest teams by 23, the fact he needs time to develop or that United signed him with a view to the next 10 years.
But no, Mourinho decided to talk money. Which seems to play into the hands of Pogba's detractors who feel he is a glorified PR accessory.
Not a turtleneck to be seen
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) 16 March 2017
United back to their usual formation
After experimenting with a 3-4-3 when they were under-strength at Chelsea, United have reverted back to their usual variant of 4-3-3. Sergio Romero is their Europa League goalkeeper and so continues in nets, while it seems as though Daley Blind will occupy Michael Carrick's holding midfield role. Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera are just ahead of him and it's a front three of Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan leading the attack.
Rostov: Medvedev, Terentyev, Mevlja, Kudryashov, Azmoun, Bayramyan, Erokhin, Prepeliţă, Noboa, Navas, Poloz
Manchester United's bench
Subs: De Gea, Jones, Carrick, Fellaini, Young, Lingard, Rashford
Pogba and Ibrahimovic start
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) 16 March 2017
Will Mourinho select Pogba?
Good evening and welcome to live coverage of Manchester United's Europa League last-16 second leg with FK Rostov at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho's side earned a credible 1-1 draw in trying conditions away from home, and are heavy favourites to progress and keep a second route into next season's Champions League open.
United can call upon Zlatan Ibrahimovic because his suspension only applies to domestic games, and the former Barcelona forward scored a hat-trick in their last home European game against St Etienne.
Mourinho might consider resting Paul Pogba, who has played an immense amount of football over the past two years, but might want to give him a chance to answer his critics on the pitch.
Rostov have conceded just three goals in their last nine league games, though the Russian league is notably low scoring with no team averaging two goals a game.
Their star player is Sardar Azmoun, linked with Liverpool and subject to a £2 million bid from Arsenal in 2014, who is dubbed the 'Iranian Messi'.
Team news to follow.
What is it?
It's the second leg of the Europa League last-16 tie between Manchester United and FC Rostov.
When is it?
Thursday, March 16.
What time is kick-off?
It's a 8:05pm scheduled start time at Old Trafford.
What TV channel is it on?
BT Sport 2 will be broadcasting the game live.
What is the team news?
Wayne Rooney is ruled out after a training ground collision with Phil Jones, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic likely to return to the starting XI up top as he continues to serve a ban in domestic competitions.
Anthony Martial has trained after missing Monday night's defeat at Chelsea, but not with the main group of players and Mourinho has said he will remain on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Rostov rotated their squad for the weekend's 0-0 draw with Terek Grozny in the league, but it remains unclear who will feature in Manchester.
Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Smalling, Bailly, Blind, Darmian, Shaw, Young, Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini, Schweinsteiger, Pogba, Mata, Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Rashford.
What are they saying?
Jose Mourinho, Manchester United head coach:
We know Rostov is a very good team.
We are so many matches away and some of those are against big opponents who have experience in the Champions League. 1-1 is a very doubtful result.
[Rooney]'s injured. It was some kick in his knee area so he can't even come out to the pitch. He stays inside with the medical department.
What are the odds?
Man Utd to win: 1/4
Rostov to win: 15/1
Man Utd to progress: 1/12
Rostov to progress: 13/2
What's our prediction?
Man Utd (3) 2-1 (2) Rostov
The home side will get an early goal and lead comfortably throughout - almost too comfortably, as a late consolation goal for the visitors will give everyone a fright before the final whistle.