He is a man under pressure, criticised for a lacklustre performance in the summer transfer market, and suffering a disappointing start to the new season on the pitch. But enough talk of veteran Shaktar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu, it is David Moyes that desperately needs a result in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday night.
Lucescu lost the not inconsiderable talents of Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan over the the summer, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund spending more than £50 million on the pair. Meanwhile two defeats in the opening 11 matches of the Ukrainian league leave Shaktar behind rivals Metalist Kharkiv and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Yet, it is Moyes, following successive and hugely damaging Premier League defeats, that desperately seeks not only the respite of European football, but a morale boosting victory at the 50,000-seat Donbass Arena.
There is, of course, a match amid the lurid headlines and loom-laden predictions enveloping United since the 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, with the Reds seeking another step towards qualification from Group A.
United put four past Bayer Levekusen on Champions League matchday one, but with Real Sociedad also in the group there are unlikely to be too many free points in this year’s group stage. Not least with United struggling for form so early in the season.
Still, Moyes seemingly remains calm; confident that his methods will eventually secure the results United’s sub-par performances have rarely merited to date this season.
“I have been in situations very similar to this at my old clubs Everton and also at Preston. You get on and you do the right things,” said the 50-year-old, who is in his first Champions League campaign.
“I haven’t changed what I have done. I will continue to do that. The results will come. I have no doubt about that. We are getting to know [the players], we are understanding them much more. I am beginning to get a better feel for them all. I know one thing about them. They are really good players, top players they are. That will never change.”
Moyes struck a more assertive tone on Tuesday, following the Scot’s earlier assertion that his side was “five or six world-class players” short of winning the Champions League. Indeed, the defeatist attitude had rung loud all week, with Moyes previously claiming that United’s 20th league title victory last season was largely due to the “poor” quality of opponent.
Indeed, the new United manager is seemingly learning the ropes daily, not least when it comes to media interest in the club. From Moyes’ anointment by Sir Alex Ferguson, to a baffling summer transfer market circus, Moyes is yet to find his own voice as the key man at Old Trafford.
“It is always the thing at Manchester United – everyone is interested in them. It is talking point for everybody throughout the world,” admits the Scot.
“That is why it is, for me, the greatest club. It is a great honour to be the manager. Even our arrival here in Donetsk has been greeted with a lot of supporters at the airport. It is a great thing.”
On the pitch Moyes has a largely complete squad to select from, although defender Rio Ferdinand was the major absentee from United’s Tuesday morning flight east. The 34-year-old defender has a minor groin strain, although it is unlikely the veteran would have featured in any case. Ferdinand has missed similarly lengthy European trips in recent season.
Meanwhile, Robin van Persie could start after the Dutchman returned from injury as a substitute at the weekend. Patrice Evra and captain Nemanja Vidic should also feature after sitting out United’s horror-show at home to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
Marouane Fellaini is set to start alongside Michael Carrick, while Moyes will choose between Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young for a spot on the flanks. Teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj, fresh from scoring a stunning left-footed drive for the reserves on Tuesday, does not qualify for the Champions League ‘B list’ until mid-October.
“Yes, Robin is fit, but we will make a decision tomorrow whether we start him or not,” confirmed Moyes. “We have left one or two players behind. Anderson, Fabio, Wilf Zaha and Rio Ferdinand are not with us. Rio has a slight groin problem but it’s nothing serious.”
Meanwhile, the hosts are without summer signing Wellington Nem, who suffered a knee injury shortly after joining from Fluminense for £8 million. However, Lucescu can select Fred, Fernando and Bernard who all joined in the summer, making it a round 10 Brazilians in the Shaktar squad.
The Ukrainians helped eliminate Chelsea in last season’s group stage, with Lucescu’s men beating the then holders 2-1 in Donetsk with goals from Alex Teixeira and Fernandinho. Indeed, Shakhtar have won all three previous Champions League fixtures against English visitors to the Donbass, beating Arsenal in 2001 and 2011.
Veteran coach Lucescu become the club’s longest-serving coach this week having been in charge since May 2004 in what has been an unprecedented period of success. Seven Ukrainian league titles have followed together with a hat-trick of Cups between 2011 and 2013. The UEFA Cup was secured in 2009, while the club made the Champions League quarter-final in 2011.
Now 68, Lucescu played for his country 70 times and made over 400 appearances for Romanian clubs before retirement in 1990. He has managed a dozen clubs in a managerial career now drawing to a close, including Internazionale when the Italian club was beaten by United on the way to Champions League victory in 1999.
Still, with Moyes’ United struggling for form, Lucescu senses a genuine opportunity to take a major European scalp, especially with Shaktar’s record proving so durable against English opponents.
“David Moyes hasn’t found his best lineup yet, as he is changing four or five players from game to game,” said Lucescu pointedly.
“The link-up play between their players is not as good as it used to be so the team suffers, which is happening with us too because Shakhtar have a lot of new players.
“He is clearly one of the best coaches in the Premier League, but he needs time to organise his new team properly. I am sure that sooner or later he will resolve all his present problems, but I hope it will happen after the game in Donetsk.”
Moyes hopes much the opposite. Indeed, the Scot can barely afford a result beyond a rare away victory at the Donbass.
Shaktar Donetsk v Manchester United, Champions League, Donbass Arena, 7.45pm, 2 October 2013
Shaktar (4-5-1): Pyatov; Srna, Kucher, Shevchuk, Rakitskiy; Hubschman, Teixeira, Costa, Bernard, Luiz Adriano; Taison. Subs from: Kanibolotskiy, Volovyk, Chygrynskiy, Kryvtsov, Stepanenko, Fred, Kobin, Eduardo, Fernando, Grechyshkin, Ilsinho, Ferreyra
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Welbeck; Rooney; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Buttner, Smalling, Jones, Cleverley, Giggs, Kagawa, Nani, Hernández
Shaktar 0 Draw 0 United 0
Referee: Pavel Královec (CZE)
Assistant referees: Roman Slyško (SVK) , Martin Wilczek (CZE)
Additional assistant referees:Radek Příhoda (CZE), Michal Paták (CZE)
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