Sir Alex Ferguson left a rash of players at home as Manchester United chase a second win in this season’s Champions League group stage. Fresh from defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, and a drab victory over Galatasary on match-day one, Ferguson flew with a stripped-down squad to Romania’s third largest city on Tuesday. Victory over CFR 1907 Cluj will bring the Reds to within four points of likely qualification for the knock-out stages of this season’s competition.
It promises to be a testing fixture against the Romanian champions, who knocked out FC Basel in the Champions League preliminary round this season. Basel’s victory over United in Switzerland last season consigned the Reds to the Europa League for the first time since 2005.
Ferguson will be without midfielders Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick, together with a trio of defenders for the tie at the atmospheric Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu. Valencia is out with a bruised ankle, while Giggs and Carrick are each suffering from a virus.
Scholes has been rested after playing 90 minutes against Spurs on Saturday and should return for United’s Premier League trip to Newcastle United next weekend.
However, Ferguson will at least be able to field two fit centre-halves after Jonny Evans recovered from a dead leg sustained against Spurs at the weekend. The Northern Irishman will partner Rio Ferdinand in central defence, with captain Nemanja Vidić, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all on the sidelines.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the threadbare squad Ferguson says United will show The Railwaymen every respect on Tuesday night. United beat compatriots Oțelul Galați home and away last season.
“They’ve beaten Basel twice and Basel knocked us out so we need to give them every respect,” said Ferguson of Tuesday’s opponents.
“CFR are a team who defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball. Their main strength is the counterattack, as they showed against Braga. Counterattacking is very important in European football these days. Their strongest point is they have got three points. They play us tomorrow and then two games against Galatasaray. They need seven more points from five games and they will qualify.”
Ferguson kept his squad back at Carrington a day longer than is usual prior to Champions League fixtures after the Reds lost 3-2 at home to Spurs at the weekend. United’s performance in the first half of the reverse was arguably the worst of the campaign to date. United rallied in the second period, but failed to turn the match around for a second Premier League defeat of the season.
Indeed, in conceding three against Andre Villas-Boas’ north Londoners United has now shipped twice or more for the third time this season. It is a defensive record that will again be tested in Cluj-Napoca – the unofficial capital of Transylvania.
“We made the decision to train at home because most of the time when you train abroad you can’t do anything because everyone is watching,” added Sir Alex.
“Training at Carrington this morning allowed us to do things around picking the team and tactics. Our second half against Spurs on Saturday was probably our best performance of the season, but you have to be concerned with the way we lost the goals. We were well off the pace of the game.”
Ferguson is likely to recall Wayne Rooney for the clash, with the Scouser central to a dominant attacking performance in the second period against Tottenham. The fixture may also offer Darren Fletcher a second start of the campaign, especially given Ferguson’s need to juggle limited resources in central midfield. At least one of Tom Cleverley and Anderson should also feature.
Meanwhile, Cluj coach Ioan Andone has Vasile Maftei available after the defender served a one-game suspension on match-day one. However, Ciprian Deac, Adam Vass, Bakary Sare, and Ronny all miss out with injury.
Much traveled Andone is with his 13th club as a manager in a career that has taken the former international defender from Romania, to Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria and Cyprus. Once considered one of Romania’s best defenders, Andone played in Netherlands and Spain before taking up coaching as a 33-year-old.
In seven seasons as a player with Dinamo, Andone won two league titles and three Romanian Cups as well as reaching the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals. Andone joined CFR for a second spell as manager in April 2012, claiming the league title a month later.
“I met United when I was coach of Dinamo Bucureşti, but that was two different teams, two different scenarios,” said Andone of the 2004 preliminary round fixture that United won 5-1 on aggregate.
“Now CFR have a few players with experience in the Champions League, and we have the whole of Romania behind us. I hope our enthusiasm will make a difference. If we manage to score, we will have a chance. I don’t think you can speak about fear against United.”
Indeed, after Galatasaray ran United so close at Old Trafford on match-day one there should be little to fear from Ferguson’s men, who have failed to excel in Europe’s premier competition for more than a year.
Yet, Cluj has shown mixed form in the campaign to date, beating Basel twice in the preliminary round and then SC Braga on match-day one, but slipping to sixth in Liga I Bergenbier. Cluj beat Gloria Bistriţa 5-1 on Saturday, but has suffered two domestic defeats to date this season.
CFR 1907 Cluj v Manchester United – Champions League, Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu – Wednesday 2 October 2012, 7.45pm
Cluj (4-5-1): Felguerias; Pinto, Cadu, Rada, Sepsi; Mureşan, Alberto, Sougou, Bastos, Camora; Kapetanos. Subs from: Mincă, Maftei, Alberto, Sepsi, Bjelanović, Piccolo, Valente, Godemèche, Pedro, Aguirregaray, Nicoară, Buş, Sougou
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Fletcher, Cleverley; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Wootton, Keane, Powell, Anderson, Macheda, Welbeck, Hernández.
Officials (all Spain)
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
Assistant referees: Roberto Díaz Pérez del Palomar, Jesús Calvo Guadamuro
Additional assistant referees: Carlos Gómez, Javier Estrada Fernandez
This is the first meeting between the sides