Astana v United: Opposition guide
Manchester United are in Kazakhstan for the first time in our history, as we play FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night.
The Reds have won three of our four Group L games so far, drawing the other, and our berth in the knockout stages of the competition has already been secured.
Top spot, however, is still up for grabs, and with AZ Alkmaar just two points behind in second place, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will want our visit to the recently-renamed Kazakhstan capital of Nur-Sultan to be a fruitful one.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Blue and Yellows...
Astana will be missing centre-backs Luka Simunovic (cruciate ligament) and Zarko Tomasevic (metatarsal) when they welcome the Reds to their 30,000-capacity stadium. Simunovic managed 45 minutes against United at Old Trafford but has been ruled out after picking up an injury earlier this month, while Montenegro international Tomasevic has featured sparingly for the Blue and Yellows since signing from Oostende earlier this year.
DR Congo international Firmin Mubele is also out with a knee problem. The 25-year-old forward is on loan from Ligue 1 side Toulouse, but has struggled to establish himself in the Astana line-up, managing just 160 minutes on the pitch before being sidelined at the end of September.
Astana have recently been crowned champions of Kazakhstan for a record sixth consecutive time. The Premier League, which begins in March and runs through the summer, culminated at the beginning of November, with the Blue and Yellows wrapping up the title with a game to spare after a 1-0 win at Tobol. They finished the season on 69 points from 33 games, with runners-up Kairat a point behind – last year, the gap was an enormous 15 points.
Despite their domestic success, Roman Hryhorchuk’s side have struggled in Europe, losing all four of their Europa League group games. A narrow defeat at Old Trafford was followed by a home reverse to Partizan Belgrade on Matchday 2. The Blue and Yellows were then convincingly beaten home and away by AZ Alkmaar and, having already been eliminated, will be hoping to restore some pride in against United in what will be their final match of the season at the Astana Arena.
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THE REVERSE FIXTURE
Our only previous meeting against the Kazakhstan champions came in mid-September, when Mason Greenwood’s 73rd-minute strike was enough to secure all three points for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men at Old Trafford. United predictably dominated the game, recording 20 shots on goals to Astana’s three, but the visitors’ goalkeeper Nenad Eric did well to keep us at bay, making strong saves from Marcus Rashford, Tahith Chong and Fred. After surviving a first-half siege, substitute Rangelo Janga missed a decent chance to open the scoring for the visitors, before Greenwood hit his first senior goal, becoming our youngest goalscorer in European competition in the process.
Astana boss Roman Hryhorchuk joined the club in June 2018, replacing the legendary Stanmir Stoilov, who guided the Blue and Yellows to the Kazakh title for four consecutive seasons from 2014. The Ukrainian spent the majority of his playing career in his home country’s second division and managed Metalurh Zaporizhya and Chornomorets Odessa after his retirement, in addition to spells in Latvia and Azerbaijan. The 54-year-old claimed the championship in his first full season in 2019 and helped the capital club qualify for the Europa League group stages for the fourth consecutive campaign.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Goalkeeper and captain Nenad Eric is a bona fide Astana legend, having made a record 299 appearances since 2011. The 37-year-old was born in Serbia but represented Kazakhstan internationally until his retirement last year. He has kept 20 clean sheets in European competition for the club, including in a momentous goalless draw with eventual finalists Atletico Madrid in the 2015/16 Champions League.
Marin Tomasov is the main outfield dangerman for the Blue and Yellows, having hit 26 goals in 42 games in all competitions this season. Although Astana have only scored once in Group L so far, Tomasov was prolific in the qualifying stages, registering seven strikes in six matches, including a hat-trick against Andorra’s Santa Coloma.
Twenty-six year-old Roman Murtazayev has also been among the goals for the newly-crowned champions this year. The tall forward, who is as capable of making runs out wide as well as ploughing a lone furrow through the middle, has hit 10 goals this season, appearing in 45 of the Blue and Yellows’ 47 games.
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