LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 15 – Manchester United’s quest for a trophy treble continues with a meeting against a fallen French giant on Thursday as Saint-Etienne visit Old Trafford in the Europa League’s round of 32.
Although United trail leaders Chelsea by 12 points in the Premier League, they remain on track for glory in both the League Cup, where they have reached the final, and the FA Cup.
Even one season outside the Champions League is seen as a season too many for a club like United, but although Saint-Etienne last sat at Europe’s top table in 1981, Jose Mourinho remains an admirer.
“Despite many years without titles, it’s a big club with big tradition,” the United manager told MUTV after the draw was made.
“It’s the club where Michel Platini, before he went to Italy, did amazingly well in an amazing team that was dominant in France in that period, so it’s a historical club.
“And (with) the extra curiosity of a beautiful thing, which is two brothers playing against each other.”
The brothers in question are United’s record signing Paul Pogba and the Saint-Etienne defender Florentin, who will meet in a professional match for the first time.
The pair have spoken of their excitement prior to the game and another player rubbing his hands in anticipation is United’s Anthony Martial, who came through the ranks at Saint-Etienne’s arch rivals Lyon.
“There was a huge rivalry while I was still at Lyon,” the French forward, whose side are unbeaten in 16 league games, told the United website this week.
“It was always a highly charged atmosphere and they were usually massive games, the kind all players love to play in.
“Of course, it would be great if I could score against them again, but I hope we can win the game because that’s the most important thing, then it would be a bonus if I managed to grab a goal.”
– ‘Mythical stadium’ –
A goal for Martial will also have an impact on United’s finances as his 25th strike in their colours will trigger a 10 million euros ($10.6 million) payment to his former club Monaco.
Saint-Etienne could be forgiven, however, for paying more attention to Martial’s team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 14 goals in 13 matches against them during his time at Paris Saint-Germain.
Thursday’s game will allow Saint-Etienne to end a near 40-year wait to grace the Old Trafford turf for the first time.
The sides previously met in the European Cup Winners’ Cup first round in 1977, but the second leg was played at Plymouth Argyle on England’s south coast after crowd trouble marred the first leg.
Following a 1-1 draw at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, United prevailed 2-0 in the second leg courtesy of goals from Stuart Pearson and Steve Coppell.
Saint-Etienne go into the game on the back of a breezy 4-0 win over Ligue 1’s bottom club Lorient, which defender Kevin Malcuit believes was helpful preparation.
“It’s always good to go to Manchester,” he said.
“It will be a pleasure to play at Old Trafford, which is a mythical stadium. We’re really happy to be playing this team, although we know they are stronger than us.”
In the pick of Thursday’s other first-leg ties, Serie A’s second-place team Roma travel to Villarreal, Borussia Moenchengladbach host Fiorentina and Tottenham Hotspur visit Belgian side Gent.
Thursday (11:05pm EAT unless otherwise stated):
Anderlecht v Zenit St Petersburg, Astra Giurgiu v Genk (9pm), Athletic Bilbao v Apoel Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar v Lyon (9pm), Borussia Moenchengladbach v Fiorentina (9pm), Celta Vigo v Shakhtar Donetsk (9pm), Gent v Tottenham Hotspur (9pm), Hapoel Be’er Sheva v Besiktas, Krasnodar v Fenerbahce (7pm), Legia Warsaw v Ajax, Ludogorets v FC Copenhagen (9pm), Manchester United v Saint-Etienne, Olympiakos v Osmanlispor (9pm), PAOK Salonika v Schalke, Rostov v Sparta Prague (9pm), Villarreal v Roma