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United ready for Europa League

AAP logoAAP 14/09/2016

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho admits his side will reluctantly begin their Europa League campain at Feyenoord on Thursday.

United have not played in Europe in the last two seasons and, having finished fifth in the Premier League last term, return to continental football in the second-tier tournament.

The Red Devils are desperate to be back in the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.

Mourinho said: "This is not a competition that Manchester United wants. It is not a competition I want, it is not a competition the players want.

"It is a competition where we are and that's the reality. We have to look to the competition with respect. I think we want to do well in the competition and, for a club of our dimension to do well, is not to be out of the competition in the group phase."

Captain Wayne Rooney has been rested and therefore left out of United's 20-man squad along with Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard.

Feyenoord are set to include former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt. Group A also features Zorya Luhansk and Fenerbahce who meet in Ukraine on Thursday.

The other English Europa League involvement is from Southampton who host Sparta Prague in their first-ever match in the competition's group stage.

Manager Claude Puel is already targeting a place in next season's tournament.

"It will be important for the future to play another campaign in the Europa League," he said. "I hope to play next year because it is very important to bring a good experience every time.

"It is not easy to have a European campaign. There are good teams which are used to playing these games.

"Whether it is the Champions League or Europa League it is important to play these games to have good experience and opportunity. For many players in my squad this is the first time and it is difficult and hard to know all the emotion for this game."

Sparta potentially represent kind opposition, given they last won in England in 1983 against Watford and have failed to beat Premier League opposition in their past 14 attempts. They are also without former Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, owing to a lack of match fitness.

Southampton, because of knee injuries, remain without APS16million record signing Sofiane Boufal and Jeremy Pied.

The other Group K teams are Inter Milan and Hapoel Be'er Sheva who clash in Milan on Thursday.

Like Southampton, Irish side Dundalk, who play away to AZ Alkmaar, are also making their UEFA group stage debut.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny admits his team of semi-professionals are seen as outsiders to progress.

Kenny said: "Most neutral observers would think that we have very little chance of making it through when you consider the teams in it - Maccabi, AZ and of course Zenit St Petersburg, who won the competition outright in recent history."

In all there are 24 Europa League games on Thursday across the 12 groups.

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