Manchester United full-back Matteo Darmian believes they must beat Feyenoord at Old Trafford on Thursday as they bid to reach the Europa League knockout stage from a difficult Group A.
Defeat by second-placed Feyenoord would put United, a point behind the top two, out if leaders Fenerbahce beat visiting Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk in their penultimate group match. Feyenoord will clinch a place in the last 32 with a win.
“I think it is a difficult group because we have to face a difficult opponent, but we are still in the race. We have an important game against Feyenoord and have to win. We’ll prepare to make sure we’re ready,” Darmian told MUTV.
United lost 1-0 to Feyenoord in Rotterdam in September but are on a 13-game unbeaten streak at home in Europe, last losing to Real Madrid at Old Trafford in the 2012-13 season.
“I remember playing Feyenoord away because it was not a good game for us. We have to change this and win our away games, but for now we’re playing at home and maybe that is a little bit easier,” Italian Darmian added.
Feyenoord, who have not won in their last three European away games, will be without experienced midfielder Karim El Ahmadi after his troublesome foot injury flared up again.
The Dutch-born Morocco international returned in Sunday’s 3-0 win over PEC Zwolle after three weeks out but had to go off when his foot hurt again not long after he got the second goal.
Feyenoord are also without Netherlands defender Terence Kongolo (hamstring) as well as Eric Botteghin, who is suspended after being sent off in their last Europa League game at Zorya.
The Europa League is the only major title United have not won and Darmian said the competition had become more attractive since the winners were guaranteed a Champions League spot.
United are sixth in the Premier League after 12 games, two places and six points below the Champions League spots.
“I think the Europa league is a big competition. Winning it gives us a big opportunity to get into the Champions League which is crucial for a club like Manchester United,” Darmian said.
United meanwhile will exercise their option to extend veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contract for a second season at Old Trafford, manager Jose Mourinho said on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old Ibrahimovic, who joined on a free transfer in July, has had a mixed start to his United career despite scoring eight goals in 17 games in all competitions.
“Zlatan’s situation is simple: he has a one-plus-one contract with the club and we will execute the option of a second season,” Mourinho told reporters.
The former Sweden captain, who was suspended for Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw at home to Arsenal, ended a six-game goal drought in a win over Swansea City earlier this month.
“He’s happy, committed and loving his life as a football player at United,” Mourinho added.
“This is probably the last big challenge of his wonderful career, so it is perfect for him to be here for the next 18 months and then he owns the decision of his future.”
Ibrahimovic said the extension is “automatic after a while”, but the criteria for it to be triggered has yet to be fulfilled.
“We didn’t even have any discussions. I feel good, I feel fresh, I feel like now I’ll probably take a second year,” he said.
“I want to be honest with myself and I don’t want to waste time. The second year goes automatic after a while, there’s no word from me and no word from them. If it continues like this then it is a yes.”