For Manchester United fans typing ‘Luhansk’ into Google Maps, don’t bother. The Ukrainian outfit’s ground is actually located a 236-mile drive away from the City. That’s one of many quirks about Zorya Luhansk, the Red Devils’ next Europa League opponents.
They may be huge outsiders tonight, but with a third successive campaign in Europe underway, we reckon fans across Britain will be hearing a lot more about Zorya in the coming years. But where did it all start?
Who are they?
The team of many names were formed in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk in 1923 as ‘Metalist’, and played in the Lenin Stadium – commissioned by and named after the then-leader of the Soviet Union.
Also-rans for much of their existence, their first bow on the continent came in the 1973-74 season – as Zorya Voroshilovgrad – when they caused a shock by knocking out Cypriot heavyweights APOEL Nicosia in the European Cup.
However, while the Zorya faithful had to wait another 31 years for their next European adventure, aggregate wins over Charleroi and Molde in the previous two seasons have begun to establish the Ukrainians as a rival to the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk.
And last season, Zorya (translation: ‘dawn’) reached their first cup final in since 1975 – only for Shakhtar to spoil the day by winning 2-0. Disgraceful.
What’s the ground like?
Well, it’s not in Luhansk for starters. And this time around, they’re not even playing at their temporary home of the Slavutych-Arena in Zaporizhia. Instead, the Ukrainian outfit are renting out the sizeable Chornomorets Stadium in Odessa.
Holding 34,164 fans, this impressive arena is located in the Shevchenko Park area of the city – which disappointingly isn’t named after the former Chelsea hitman.
Built with the hope of making the cut for Euro 2012 (it didn’t), it’s nonetheless one of Ukraine’s more impressive footballing arenas and another ground to tick off for Man United’s most loyal supporters.
Their star men
Shakhtar Donetsk loanee Oleksandr Karavaev is the hottest talent on Zorya’s books. So far the Ukraine international is showing his parent club what they’re missing – having netted four times from midfield in his last seven Ukrainian Premier League games.
Elsewhere, Georgian midfielder Jaba Lipartia is a talented provider who chips in with some important goals, while Nigerian prodigy Dennis Emmanuel Bonaventure has plenty of pace and a fierce shot – making him a good candidate to score anytime against United at 9/2.
Can they hurt Man United?
It’s unlikely the Ukrainian outfit will head home from Old Trafford with a point – let alone a win. Their midfield is hard-working and has some creative quality, but there’s little chance they can contain the intelligent passing of players like Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, and the steel of midfield maestro Paul Pogba.
Zorya’s ageing defence will also be a worry, with regulars Mykyta Kamenyuka and Vyacheslav Checher both decidedly sluggish. That means the lightning-quick Marcus Rashford could fill his boots to give Jose Mourinho’s men a third win on the bounce.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing