Manchester United and Arsenal go into the final draw of the Europa League group stage looking for wins to ensure a quick passage to the last 16. month. Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford were among the scorers in United’s 3-0 win against Sheriff Tiraspol last week, leaving manager Erik ten Hag upbeat.
“This is a good sign, a good message, and we can build on that,” said the Dutchman, whose rejuvenated side moved up to fifth in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over West On Sunday, Rashford celebrated his 100th goal for the club.
“We have to go there and win by two goals to top the group, so we’ll try to do that,” Rashford said.
“It was our mission, our goal when we started the campaign, to top the group and that still stands.”
Premier League leaders Arsenal top their group and are on firmer ground than Ten Hag, requiring a win at home to Zurich or for PSV Eindhoven to stumble at Norwegian club Bodo/Glimt .
Mikel Arteta’s leaders inflicted a five-goal thrashing on Nottingham Forest at the weekend, but the defeat came at the cost of an injury to winger Bukayo Saka.
Arteta is keen to seal the deal as group leaders on Thursday to avoid the post-World Cup burden of a two-legged play-off in February.
“For sure it’s important because we’ve never played so many games after the World Cup,” the coach said.
“Any game you can skip is a big advantage. We’ve talked about that. For two reasons. One because you’re missing two games and also because you’re missing some of the best teams.”
Only the winners of the group have direct access to the round of 16. The runners-up face a knockout round play-off against one of the eight teams, including Barcelona, parachuted into the Champions League competition.
Four teams — Real Betis, Union Saint-Gilloise, Freiburg and Ferencvaros — take part in the final round of group matches in the continent’s second-tier competition, securing their place in the round of 16.
On Thursday, the stakes are no higher than at Jose Mourinho’s Roma, who under the Portuguese coach won the inaugural Europa League Conference title last season, the club’s first European honour.
But Mourinho must conjure up a home win for his Serie A side against Ludogorets to reach the play-offs as Group C runners-up.
Otherwise it will be back to the Conference League for the only manager to have been successful in all current UEFA competitions.
They were beaten 2-1 by Thursday’s rivals away in Bulgaria and Roma striker Stephan El Shaarawy is all too aware of the task ahead.
“To pass the round, we still have to beat Ludogorets,” said the Italian international.
“It’s a one-on-one battle for second place. We’ll do our best in Rome,” ventured Ludogorets coach Ante Simundza.
Roma’s neighbors Lazio face Feyenoord who are looking to avoid defeat to finish in the top two of Group F.
Elsewhere, surprise early-season Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin kept their hopes of a place in the knockout round alive with a 1-0 win over Braga last week.
This left them chasing a play-off place as runners-up if they beat Union St-Gilloise or Braga fall to Malmö.
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