by Teo Teng Kiat
Champions League action resumes on Thursday morning, 3.45a.m (Singapore time) at Old Trafford, as United look to continue their recovery from the 6-1 mauling in the Manchester derby last weekend.
Coming off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Goodison Park on Saturday, courtesy of a typically opportunistic strike from Javier Hernandez, Oţelul Galaţi should prove to be easier opposition at the Theatre of Dreams, where United will be the overwhelming favorites.
With only five points from the first three matches, the Red Devils’ form have been decidedly patchy in Europe. A good point away to Benfica in the first round was followed by a complacent performance in the next as they spurned a 2-0 lead to eventually salvage a 3-3 draw at home to Basel, before laboring to a 2-0 away victory at the Romanian debutants in Bucharest. Nevertheless, United remain only two points off leaders Benfica, but with Basel only a point further behind in third, maximum points are imperative in this fixture.
Tom Cleverley hobbled off during the match against Everton with an ankle problem, although Sir Alex calmed any fears over the injury, declaring it to be “nothing serious, just tightness and tiredness”. Still, the young midfielder is only expected back next week, and so will almost certainly miss out tomorrow.
Two players who will be sitting this match out for sure are Ashley Young and Chris Smalling. The winger has suffered a toe injury that will probably keep him out of a couple of weeks, while his fellow England international has sustained a small fracture in his foot and will be on the sidelines for the next one month.
Meanwhile, Brazilian fullback Rafael has been back in training over the past week, after a dislocated shoulder which required an operation; so is Ireland international Darron Gibson, after a lengthy layoff due to a metatarsal injury. Both won’t be featuring in the game however, in all probability, due to their considerable lack of match fitness.
Injuries aside, the only other player unavailable will be skipper Nemanja Vidic. His return to the backline on Saturday, in which he was a colossus throughout the entire afternoon, indicates the sort of defensive stability that will be sorely missed. The suspension stems from his red card against the same opponents last time out, which was a ludicrous decision for a 50-50 challenge, but United should still have enough to cope in defence.
The manager has indicated that there won’t be too many changes to the line-up, at the most “maybe two or three, but no more”.
Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard could return to stand in goal as he did for the first and third group fixtures, while Ferdinand will surely come in and partner Evans in the centre of defence. The rightback position should be filled by Jones, while Evra retains his place on the left.
Michael Carrick could ostensibly return to the midfield in place of Cleverley, as European games seem much better suited to his style of play. Expect Nani to start too, as the Portuguese winger would add some creativity to the attack, while Valencia should be on the opposite flank.
Upfront, the trio of Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck look set to continue, although there might be a case for Berbatov to replace any of them, given his impressive performance against Aldershot in midweek.
The Romanians will be expected to set out their stall to stifle United, as they did in the previous encounter. There are arguably no clear star individuals in their squad, but their strong team ethic and good organization restricted the amount of chances United had. That said, their inexperience was evident for the two penalties conceded, and United will look to exploit any such weaknesses and press hard from the start to get an early goal and make things easier.
This should be a straightforward victory against spirited but ultimately inferior opposition, as long as United do not get complacent, as they did against Basel. In the words of the boss, “we’re at home and I expect us to win and, if we do that, it’s in our hands when we play Benfica at home”.
The players who are called upon need to do a professional job and secure three points which will be essential if we want to win the group, and avoid the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern, Barcelona and other big teams in the next round.
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