Manchester United's Europa League opponents St Etienne are set to be without goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier for the last 32 first leg at Old Trafford next Thursday [16 February] after the France international was ruled out for a ninth game in a row against Nice. The 30-year-old has not played in 2017 due to an abductor injury and is likely to be replaced by Jessy Moulin, the much travelled stopper who has deputised for the 30-year-old.
Ruffier, who was again absent for the 2-0 win over Lyon, will train this week in an effort to regain match fitness, but having not played since before the winter break in December he is unlikely to be risked for one of the biggest games in St Etienne's history. The pair have never previously played against one another in European competition meaning the matches will be a landmark moment as the Europa League reached the knock-out stage.
"Stephane did not return to the game in Nice," said manager Christophe Galtier, according to the club's official website. "He still needs training sessions to regain all his sensations and landmarks. We will set up sessions on Thursday and Friday adapted to his work." Full-back Kevin Malcuit is suspended for the trip to Nice but will be available to face United next week. The club have no further injury problems.
Victory over their arch rivals Lyon brought Et Etienne to within a point of the top four. A fourth or fifth place finish in Ligue 1 would guarantee St Etienne a place in the third qualifying round of the Europa League, with either Monaco or Paris Saint-Germain guarantee to open up an extra place with both teams contesting the Coupe de la Ligue final in April.
But despite the enormity of facing United, Galtier insists full focus is on his side's league campaign and that the two-legged tie with Jose Mourinho's side is the "least important" games of the month. "There can be no relaxation, I do not fear that, even if we have to think about it," he said according to The Mirror.
"The most important matches will obviously be next, Nice, and Lorient. And the two games with Manchester [United] will surely be the two least important matches of the month of February. Thanks to the team, thanks to the players, the investment and the work during the three weeks of training [during the winter break]. We went out of the Coupe de France but in the league, we have managed to score points, to score goals and we must rely on this to keep challenging where we are."