Andrew Flint –
Partizan vs Manchester United – Thursday, October 24, 17:55 BST/18:55 CEST – Stadion FK Partizan, Belgrade – Serbia
In the 1990s when Savo Miloševićwas a powerful striker for Aston Villa, he was no stranger to controversy. He was once reprimanded for spitting in the direction of his own fans, but in equal measure, he was an electric forward who, sometimes by the pure brute force of willpower, dominated those who stood in his way. An unerring eye for goals helped, of course. Now the former Partizan youth team product has come full circle almost three decades after his association with the Serbian giants began, but his message is not of determination to stick one to his former rivals.
“I expect everything to be fair and in the spirit of the sport,” he said ahead of the game. “We know of our supporters, we are aware of the importance of the game, and we are also aware of the problems we have had in the past.” Partizan have just completed a two-match partial stadium ban for racist behaviour of their fans and will be back to full strength in the stands. “Tomorrow [Thursday] will once again be a celebration of football, so I don’t expect any problems in that regard. We all know how important the support from the home fans can be.”
Partizan have plenty of English connections besides their manager. Lazar Marković was supposed to be Liverpool’s creative wide-man when he signed for the Anfield side a few years ago, but injury denies him the chance to face United this time round. Arsenal’s Japanese winger Takuma Asano is on loan as well, but the standout figure on the pitch is Zoran Tošić. His impact at Old Trafford was minimal, even if his future career for club and country turned out to be spectacular. As with any English traveling side, the fans and players will need little motivation. With United a withered shadow of their former selves, Partizan will scent more than enough blood.
Belgrade will forever provide a haunting memory for Manchester United. After surviving a brutal 3-3 draw to edge through to their European Cup quarter-final against Crvena Zvezda in 1958, the plane carrying arguably the most gifted English club side ever back failed to take off from Munich airport, killing eight players. The image of their bright, confident, and fearless young faces on the Belgrade pitch still chills the bones of United followers the world over. To return to the city where the Busby Babes last danced and fought their way past another hapless opponent should provide all the emotional motivation they need.
If anyone at Manchester United is an eternal optimist, it is the man who stretched his leg out with seconds remaining in the 1999 Champions League final to break Bayern Munich hearts and crown one of the most dramatic and iconic moments in the club’s history. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been heavily criticised by all and sundry for his seeming reliance on the shimmering haze of nostalgia. There is only so long before those voices will start to ring true; since the remarkable night in Paris when Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty knocked out the uber-wealthy Paris Saint-Germain, the Norwegian’s United have failed to win a single away match.
He has, however, stuck to his guns regarding the policy of blooding youth and pace into the side. With the abundance of counter-attacking potential on show, it can only be a matter of time before United’s raw talent click together and start breaking teams down. With four points already on the board, and only one more away game to come, there is no urgency to go all out for a win. However, with the poignant history surrounding the place – and Solskjær’s almost obsessive reverence for it – there is little chance the value of a win here will be taken lightly.
Partizan vs Manchester United – Players to watch
Zoran Tošić #7 – Partizan Belgrade
A decade ago, Manchester United were a far greater force in Europe having won the Champions League in Moscow in 2008 before reaching the final a year later. In the summer of 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo left the club for what was then an eye-watering £80 million to be replaced, partly, by a young Serbian prospect. Zoran Tošić was seen as a major prospect but only managed to make five appearances for the first team. After a fruitful seven years at CSKA Moscow and 76 caps for his country, his career could hardly be said to be a disappointment though; his direct running and lethal long-range passing and shooting have caused problems for countless defenders in his time. It is quite likely that United will have a makeshift defence with half an eye on three consecutive away games coming up; Tošić will relish the chance to show his old employers what they could have had.
Mason Greenwood #26 – Manchester United
The 18-year-old child prodigy is fast becoming far more than just an exciting prospect; with the troubles his side are having at winning games, especially away from home, his electric turn of pace will prove critical to their chances of creating chances in Belgrade. The decision to sell Romelu Lukaku and loan Alexis Sánchez to Internazionale without replacing either was widely criticised, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been steadfast in his insistence that Greenwood is ready to step up. He has United’s only goal of the Europa League campaign so far, at least. He has been scoring goals by the bucketload in the youth teams – now he must come of age, and fast
Partizan vs Manchester United – Match stats
- Partizan Belgrade are unbeaten in their last 11 UEFA competition home games (W8, D3)
- They have met once before but over 50 years ago, when Partizan knocked United out of the European Cup 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-final
- They have only won four of their last 16 home group-stage games
- United have scored just one goal in their opening two group games, but are also yet to concede
- The English side haven’t lost in their last six European away matches (W3, D3)
- Manchester United haven’t won a single competitive match since beating Paris Saint-Germain back in March
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Partizan vs Manchester United – 1-1
Partizan vs Manchester United – Possible lineups
Stojković – Miletić, Ostojić, Pavlović, Urosević – Scekić, Zdjelar – Tošić, Natkho, Asano – Sadiq
Manager: Savo Milošević
Romero – Wan-Bissaka, Jones, Maguire, Williams – Perreira, Garner, Fred – Lingard, Greenwood, James
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.