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It’s not very usual to see Sheriff Tiraspol leading a group which consists of the likes of Manchester United and Real Sociedad. But with a thumping away win over Omonia Nicosia, the Moldovian side sit atop the Europa League Group E.
They will have to be in an even focused demeanour on Thursday (today) as the Red Devils from Manchester take a trip to their homeland in an attempt to seal their first away win in Europe this season.
Having dealt with the threat of now injured Nigerian striker Sadiq Umar in their opening 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad in their opening group clash, United are poised against Umar’s little known countrymen Iyayi Atiemwem and Rasheed Ibrahim Akanbi, who were both on target for Sheriff, as they saw off Super Eagles goalkeeper Francis Uzoho’s Omonia Nicosia 3-0 away from home.
Midfielder Akanbi with a goal and an assist and Atiemwen with another from the spot as Uzoho watched from the bench.
Akanbi was on fire against Omonia, as the disguised forward scored one – inside two minutes – and assisted another to set up his two direct goal contributions. He had two shots, 35 touches 13/22 passes, two chances created, 3/4 ground duels, one tackle, 100 per cent successful dribbles and a yellow card.
The Nigerian is playing for the first time in Europe this season, as Sheriff had a totally different line-up in the Champions League last season. The midfielder will be hoping to make the most of his game time against one of the big clubs in Europe today.
Against Omonia, Akanbi was very well supported by defender Armel Zohouri, as the right full-back managed to make two key passes for his teammates, one of which resulted in a goal for the hosts.
From a defending point of view, all the laurels go to Cedric Babolo and Gabi Kiki as the centre-back pair will be expected to maintain their record of six interceptions every game. Akanbi, Zohouri, Babolo and Kiki will be four players to keep an eye on, in this game.
Atiemwen will be hoping to add to his goals tally after converting from the spot in their opening group win. The 26-year-old forward, who began his career at the youth side of hometown club Bendel Insurance in Benin City, can count on his experience at this level to wreak havoc against visiting Manchester United.
The winger made a cameo appearance in the Champions League against Manchester City in 2019, while starring for Dinamo Zagreb, as the English giants ran out 2-0 winners.
Manchester United are aware of the threat of the Nigerians, as well as Guinean Momo Yansane, and admitted it on their website ahead of today’s clash.
“Guinean international forward Momo Yansane could be one United will have to keep tabs on, given his tally of 12 goals for Stjepan Tomas’s side last season,” United wrote on their website.
“Fellow striker Iyayi Atiemwen is also considered a handful too, given his former pedigree with Dinamo Zagreb. Finding the net twice already this season, the 26-year-old will be bidding to build on his European tally. Finally, fellow countryman to Atiemwen, Akanbi is perhaps Sheriff’s most dangerous forward, known for his speed and trickery down the left flank. Registering five goals and two assists in 13 games so far this season, the Nigerian moved from Turkish side Kocaelispor this summer and has certainly hit the ground running in Moldova.”
United’s Premier League game last weekend was cancelled due to the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II, but they will be hoping to make this away trip count. Erik Ten Hag’s men have won two of their three outings since this season began.
The Molodovan hosts have shown real strength in their backline, not conceding a single goal in their last three fixtures and also not conceding more than one goal in each of their last 12 games now.