Russian Premier League COVID-19
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Coronavirus, uncooperative Sochi forces Rostov to field teens in 10-1 loss

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SOCHI, Russia — A team of teenagers took the field for a club hit by the coronavirus pandemic and lost 10-1 as soccer in Russia restarted Friday.

FC Rostov was forced to send a squad with an average age of barely 17 to play against Sochi, two days after its entire first team was put into isolation over a suspected virus outbreak among six players.

Sochi refused to postpone the game, leaving Rostov a choice between fielding academy graduates or accepting defeat by default.

[ MORE: Brighton-Arsenal recap | Spurs-Man Utd recap ]

A fairytale result was briefly on the cards as Roman Romanov gave Rostov the lead after 52 seconds with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area. Sochi soon hit back and finished with 10 goals, the most in league history, mostly scored by players with Russian national-team experience.

Rostov’s 17-year-old goalkeeper Denis Popov won widespread praise and was named man of the match. Despite conceding a record number of goals, he stopped a penalty and also set a new league record for most saves in a game with 15.

It was “sad that we lost by such a big score, but we got a lot of experience,” Popov said on his club’s website.

Hours later, Rostov’s fans welcomed the team bus home with flags and flares at the roadside.

“Well done to our kids, they’re real beauties. The rest isn’t important. These lads are champions of the future,” club president Artashes Arutyunyants said.

Still, the defeat is a blow to Rostov’s hopes of reaching the Champions League next season. It is fourth in the table, with the top three qualifying.

The Russian Premier League resumed Friday after more than three months, with a limited number of fans in stadiums. Supporters were allowed in up to 10 percent of capacity and asked to sit apart.

Mourinho defends envied Pogba; Rostov pitch banned

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Jose Mourinho says Paul Pogba doesn’t care about criticism, but the Manchester United manager sure does.

Mourinho spent a good portion of Wednesday’s press conference defending the midfielder as United prepares for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 second leg against Rostov.

[ MORE: Kane out with ankle injury ]

“Envy is everywhere,” Mourinho said. Here’s more, from the BBC:

“I feel the world is losing balance. Envy coming to certain levels. I am scared for the next generation,” said Mourinho.

“[It’s] not Paul’s fault he gets 10 times money and some ex players need money. I and the club are very happy with Paul.”

Pogba did not have a good match against Chelsea but has otherwise been outstanding in the center of the park. He’s fallen victim to the problem of evaluating big money purchases who aren’t goal scorers.

In terms of advanced stats, Pogba is United’s top performer according to WhoScored and is third-top in the entire Premier League according to Squawka.

Another takeaway from the press conference is that Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial remain out for striker-short United, which is without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Marcus Rashford started up top in Monday’s FA Cup clash with Chelsea, missing a chance to tie the match but also limited by United going down to 10 men after little more than a half hour.

Oddly enough, Mourinho was proven right for his blistering criticism of Rostov’s pitch ahead of last week’s 1-1 draw in Russia. Not only did the players agree, but there’s news Wednesday that the Russian Premier League has banned two pitches including Rostov’s for being subpar.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk