Mixed fortunes for defenders but Man United score crucial away goal
Given that, ahead of kickoff, there was plenty of talk about the quality of the pitch, Manchester United will be content with their 1-1 draw against Rostov, which they would expect to win next week when the two teams meet at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho confirmed that his tactics had been altered because of the playing surface and that was clear when the starting XI was announced, with fans left scratching their heads as they tried to work out the formation, which turned out to feature a three-man defence.
In a largely poor game, a moment of intricate passing between Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up Henrikh Mkhitaryan for United's goal. However, Mourinho will be disappointed with Rostov's equaliser, which saw Aleksandr Bukharov creep behind Phil Jones, even if the finish was excellent.
United needed a goal to take home for the second leg and it was great that Mkhitaryan scored it on his return from injury. He has now scored in three consecutive away European games -- the first United player to do that since Wayne Rooney -- and proved again he is the man to rely upon in this competition.
Maybe just as important as the away goal is that United return to Manchester without any injuries. Seeing close-up images of the pitch, watching dust fly up during challenges, and looking at players falling all over the place, it's a minor miracle that nobody got hurt.
Meanwhile, Rostov's Aleksandr Gatskan and Timofei Kalachev picked up yellow cards that will see them suspended for the second leg.
On balance of play, Rostov probably deserved a draw but it was frustrating to see such poor defending from United that allowed the hosts back in to the tie.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Mourinho got his starting team and tactics right. It wasn't great to watch but everything was going well until the equaliser. The came from a mistake that Mourinho could not have averted; it's not his fault that Jones has reverted to his typical form.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Sergio Romero, 6 -- Most attempts were straight at him and he collected them with ease. He did, though, appear to shy away from the shot for the Rostov equaliser.
DF Phil Jones, 5 -- Lost Bukharov for the equaliser after a long ball over the top. Jones made a few decent clearances and challenges but his concentration slipped when it mattered.
DF Chris Smalling, 6 -- Didn't cover and did nothing to put off Bukharov for the goal. Was more competent than Jones but is nothing like the solid central defender United need.
DF Marcos Rojo, 8 -- When Jones was caught out of position early, he got across to block a chance from Bukharov. Rojo then made several good tackles and blocks as the game went on, with the best denying Sardar Azmoun the opportunity to go through on goal.
MF Ashley Young, 6 -- Delivered a few good crosses but should have hit the target with an effort that could have put United 2-0 up.
MF Daley Blind, 6 -- Supported the attack well from his wing-back position and delivered a few decent set pieces.
MF Paul Pogba, 6 -- Scuffed a great early opportunity to open the scoring and, playing wider, he didn't see as much of the ball as usual. His effort couldn't be questioned, though, particularly when he ran the length of the pitch on the counter-attack and won a corner.
MF Ander Herrera, 6 -- Battled in midfield, particularly towards the end, to protect United's defence. Made a clumsy foul to earn a booking.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 6 -- Showed superb chest control and then played a neat ball to Ibrahimovic in the lead up to Mkhitaryan's goal.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 7 -- Scored with a cool finish from a few yards out after picking up an early booking for not very much at all.
FW Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 6 -- The striker set up Mkhitaryan's goal with a good ball. He was the focus for long balls throughout and usually held up play well but didn't have many scoring opportunities.
FW Anthony Martial, 5 -- Was given enough time to make his mark but had very little impact. Got into a few good positions but was always crowded out.
DF Antonio Valencia, NR -- Brought on in injury-time and put in one good cross.
MF Michael Carrick, NR -- Also brought on in injury-time but did not touch the ball.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.