Critical to start off on the right foot in the Europa league home opener by Philip Morrissey
Manchester United is reputed for its European record at Old Trafford. For over forty years, they could claim to have been the only team to have never lost a game on home soil. The giants of continental football all went away without being able to crack that prize. The classic games under the headlights against the likes of Real Madrid in 1957 and 1968, Benfica in 1966 and 1968, Juventus in 1977 and Barcelona in 1984, all contained star studded line-ups but were unable to match the passion from the stands and determination on the field.
In more recent times, this stature has been greatly diminished. Ever since Fenerbahce stole a one-nil victory back on a dark November evening in 1996, the defeats on our patch have steadily increased. When you are playing at the very highest level of club football, and against some of the finest players the game has to offer, this can occur. An unfortunate slip, premature injuries robbing the team of their better players, decisions taken by officials changing the complexion, or an opponent at the peak of their form can all count against a team. The slenderest of chances, more times than not, are seized upon by these star players. There is no shame in losing in those circumstances.
It seems that it is no longer that the smaller teams in Europe have a reason to fear visiting us now. The track records this decade is unimpressive to say the very least. Turkish opponents Besiktas won there in the group stages in 2010, after a victory away from home. CSKA were seconds away from achieving a similar goal before a last minute equaliser in a 3-3 draw. The progression to the final in 2011 was preceded by home draws against a stubbornly defensive Glasgow Rangers and a talented Valencia side. A defensive nightmare in games against Basel and Benfica sent us into the then unknown territory of the Europa League. Home losses against Ajax and a run around by Athletic Club Bilbao ensured it was a short lived adventure. Even relative nobodies, CFR Cluj, won there in 2013. Last season’s away defeat to the scousers left much to do at home but the subsequent draw and performance felt indicative of a need for change.
Zora Luhansk will arrive tomorrow night buoyed by the point against Fenerbahce on the opening night. They managed to keep their shape well and broke with speed for the goal. Mouriniho knows that anything other than a draw is not good enough. Changes are likely to be made from the Leicester City game, ahead of another premier league encounter at the weekend. They will have to be for the right reasons and in the right positions. The Ukrainians are likely aiming at a point and to frustrate the home team. Attitudes have to be positive from the very start to break them down. An early goal could see a few more follow. By underestimating them, the reds will get dragged into a scrappy game and more potential European misery.