Manchester United are back in action this Thursday in the Europa League, this time taking to Old Trafford after a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord in the first group stage game to host Zorya Luhansk. Yep! Quite the unknown quantity, this Zorya side.
Undoubtedly, the Red Devils are huge favourites for this clash, and meanwhile José Mourinho’s men might not consider the Europa League to be a competition of supreme importance, they could do without the embarrassment of a slip-up here in what’s been a fairly rocky start to the season.
Being as low profile as they are, however, you never know quite what Zorya can muster on the big stage. Here’s a bit about the Ukrainian club hoping to spring a surprise in the red half of Manchester.
‘The Chorno-Bili’s’ relationship with European football has been pretty scarce, as one would imagine, but they did find themselves amongst the crème de la crème back in 1972, where they represented the Soviet Union at the formerly-named European Cup.
They have since been knocking on the door of Europa League football in the past two years, falling short against Feyenoord and Legia Warsaw, respectively, in the final rounds of qualifying.
Zorya had been bracing themselves for a potential third bite of the cherry while sitting in 4th place in the Ukrainian Premier League, but sanctions handed to 3rd placed Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk for financial reasons saw the club banned from participating in European competitions and their direct qualification to the group stages being gifted to United’s next opponents.
With the Ukrainian Premier League starting in July and the domestic competition consisting of just 12 teams, Zorya have had the chance to test themselves against every side in the league and have only been bettered by Dnipro, who defeated the Europa League minnows 2-0 back in August.
Zorya, however, bounced back with a crucial 1-0 victory versus Dynamo Kyiv and find themselves as high as second in the league table, five points behind Shakhtar Donestk, whom they beat in the first game of the season 3-2 away from home.
One to Watch – Oleksandr Karavaev
With 16-goal man Pylyp Budkivsky gone, returning to Shakhtar after a loan spell with Zorya before joining Anzhi Makhachkala on a temporary basis, the responsibility of inspiration falls on the shoulders of wide man Oleksandr Karavaev, also loaned in from the Ukrainian champions.
The 23-year-old started his third consecutive season in Zorya colours after registering 11 goals and eight assists in all competitions last season, whereas this season sees Karavaev find the back of the net four times in nine appearances thus far, contributing further with an assist.