Mourinho pays heed to rivals' pedigree

(Above) United's France midfielder Paul Pogba training with team-mates on the eve of their Europa League round of 32 first-leg game against St-Etienne, who count among their players his older brother Florentin. The siblings will meet in a professional mat
(Above) United's France midfielder Paul Pogba training with team-mates on the eve of their Europa League round of 32 first-leg game against St-Etienne, who count among their players his older brother Florentin. The siblings will meet in a professional match for the first time. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
United's France midfielder Paul Pogba training with team-mates on the eve of their Europa League round of 32 first-leg game against St-Etienne, who count among their players his older brother Florentin (above). The siblings will meet in a professiona
United's France midfielder Paul Pogba training with team-mates on the eve of their Europa League round of 32 first-leg game against St-Etienne, who count among their players his older brother Florentin (above). The siblings will meet in a professional match for the first time.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

United boss acknowledges the 'big tradition' of French side as Pogba siblings face each other

LONDON • Manchester United's quest for a trophy treble continues with a meeting against a fallen French giant today as St-Etienne visit Old Trafford in the Europa League's round of 32.

Although United trail leaders Chelsea by 12 points in the Premier League, they remain on track for glory in both the League Cup, where they have reached the final, and the FA Cup.

Even one season outside the Champions League is seen as a season too many for a club like United, but, although St-Etienne last sat at Europe's top table in 1981, Jose Mourinho remains an admirer.

"Despite many years without titles, it's a big club with big tradition," the United manager told MUTV after the draw was made. "It's the club where Michel Platini, before he went to Italy, did amazingly well in an amazing team that was dominant in France in that period, so it's a historical club.

"And (with) the extra curiosity of a beautiful thing, which is two brothers playing against each other."

The brothers in question are United's record signing Paul Pogba, 23, and the St-Etienne defender Florentin, 26, who will meet in a professional match for the first time.

The pair have spoken of their excitement. "We're both determined players," Florentin said. "If he's on a run, and I have to tackle him, I'll tackle him. I'm not going to knock him out. But if I have to foul him, I'll do it."

Another player rubbing his hands in anticipation is Anthony Martial, who came through the ranks at St-Etienne's arch-rivals Lyon.

"There was a huge rivalry while I was still at Lyon," the French forward, whose side are unbeaten in 16 league games, told the United website this week. "It was always a highly charged atmosphere and they were usually massive games, the kind all players love to play in.

"Of course, it would be great if I could score against them again, but I hope we can win the game because that's the most important thing, then it would be a bonus if I managed to grab a goal."

A goal by Martial will also have an impact on United's finances as his 25th strike in their colours will trigger a €10 million (S$15 million) payment to his former club Monaco.

St-Etienne could be forgiven, however, for paying more attention to Martial's team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 14 goals in 13 matches against them during his time at Paris St-Germain.

Today's game will allow St-Etienne to end a near 40-year wait to grace the Old Trafford turf for the first time.

The sides previously met in the European Cup Winners' Cup first round in 1977, but the second leg was played in Plymouth on England's south coast after crowd trouble marred the first leg.

Following a 1-1 draw at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, United prevailed 2-0 in the second leg courtesy of goals from Stuart Pearson and Steve Coppell.

St-Etienne go into the game on the back of a breezy 4-0 win over Ligue 1's bottom club Lorient, which defender Kevin Malcuit believes was helpful preparation.

"It's always good to go to Manchester," he said. "It will be a pleasure to play at Old Trafford, which is a mythical stadium. We're really happy to be playing this team, although we know they are stronger than us."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


MAN UNITED V ST-ETIENNE
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Mourinho pays heed to rivals' pedigree'. Print Edition | Subscribe