Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United start the return leg of a tinderbox Carling Cup semi-final with the knowledge that nothing but a win will do. The Scot, who brushed off suggestions that his side lacks discipline, will call on Rio Ferdinand, the England defender who is contesting a three-match FA ban and faces a hearing Thursday.
The furor surrounding Carlos Tevez’ comments this week, where he called United Captain a “moron” and a “sock-sucker,” has added to the sense tension around the occasion. Trouble before, during and after last week’s feisty encounter with Manchester City means that an inevitable ring-of-steel will surround a sold-out Old Trafford tonight.
Sir Alex will hope that an inevitable electric atmosphere, supported by a continuing and growing anti-Glazer Green & Gold campaign, drives United towards a second successive Carling Cup final. If so Ferguson will be able to call on Ferdinand who will contest an FA charge of violent conduct following his clash with Hull City’s Craig Fagan at the weekend.
Better defensive news also surrounds that of Nemanja Vidic, who took part in full training yesterday with the first team squad. Whether the Serbian is fit enough to start is moot, although Vidic’s summer departure to Real Madrid now seems fixed with Chris Smalling’s capture from Fulham.
In midfield Ferguson will do without Anderson, the Brazilian youngster caught trying to arrange a loan move back to his homeland this week while missing training. The former-Porto midfield will land a huge fine and can expect a Nani-style freeze out of the first team picture.
Instead, Ferguson will choose between Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher for the central-midfield positions, although the final make-up will depend on whether the Scot deploys two strikers or not.
Despite the £10 million Smalling deal this week, which comes out of United’s new revolving £75 million bank credit facility, Ferguson insists tonight’s match is not a factor of money.
“It will be a different type of semi-final. We have had semi-finals in this competition in recent years against Blackburn and Chelsea. I can’t even remember if they were full houses – but tomorrow it will be full and it will be a fantastic atmosphere,” United manager Ferguson said.
“It’s got nothing to do with [money]. It’s a local derby. No money – or lots of money – comes into it. It doesn’t matter. This is a route to the final. We showed last week that we want to be in the final.
“This game is at Old Trafford and I can think of many times when we have gone into this situation in a semi-final over the years. You hope that experience serves us.”
The Scot also mocked City CEO Gary Cook’s assertion that the Eastland’s club will become “the biggest in the world.” The hapless Cook is widely derided despite presiding over a hundred million pound spending spree since the arrival of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family 18 months ago.
Meanwhile Ryan Giggs, likely to captain tonight’s side, says that United must eschew the battle of a local derby and focus on the prize – a February Wembley trip to face Aston Villa in the final.
“Of course, it’s a derby but it’s also a cup semi-final with a place at Wembley at stake and a trophy at the end of it. We’re the holders and we want to defend our trophy,” said the veteran, appearing in his 33rd Manchester derby, who also says that United’s supporters hold the key to victory.
“They are going to play a massive part. It was a great atmosphere at Eastlands and we need them to get behind us again because it really does make a difference.
“It’s not often you play City in a night game – it’ll be like a European match in some respects which is obviously something we’re used to and something which we usually thrive on.”
Indeed, while a vocal anti-Glazer demonstration is likely at Old Trafford tonight with deep-seated supporter anger at the state of United’s finances, the football will take over for 90 minutes at least.