There is a bittersweet irony in Manchester United kicking off the club’s 2012/13 Champions League season barely 24 hours after reporting more than £20 million of lost revenue in the final quarter of the financial year. The poor Q4 figures, published on Tuesday, come on the back of United’s failure in last season’s Champions League, where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was knocked out at the Group Stage and then failed to progress past Athletic Bilbao in Europe’s second tier competition.
Ferguson’s side begins the new campaign with the Scot promising an end to the complacency that wrecked United’s European season a year ago – with the manager setting the tone from the start with a much changed side against Benfica in the opening match last September. Indeed, Ferguson should be able to select close to his strongest side, fitness permitting, with Robin van Persie and potentially Shinji Kagawa returning for the Reds.
But it is in defence, where United suffered with injuries last season, that the Reds’ 70-year-old manager is hoping for better luck in the forthcoming European campaign. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, rarely fit at the same time last season, should both start at Old Trafford on Wednesday, while Patrice Evra will return to the starting side if fit.
“I think the key is to keep the defenders fit,” said Ferguson on Tuesday.
“I mean that. We had a rough ride with defenders being injured in the last two or three years. If they remain fit that gives us a better opportunity. At the moment with Smalling and Jones out long-term, I’m down to three centre-backs -Vidic, Ferdinand and Evans. If I could be guaranteed two would be fit for the rest of the season, I’d gladly take that right now. But that’s not been the case over the last few seasons. It’s a key issue for us and we can’t hide it. I just hope we get a bit of luck in that respect.”
Yet, United’s downfall last season was equally self-inflicted in addition to rank bad luck. Frequent rotation and an almost unforgivable slackness cost United heavily, especially in key games against Benfica and Basel. It’s an error that Ferguson has promised United will correct, with the manager having previously provided surety that he will pick the strongest possible side. Time will tell on both fronts.
“Finishing off games has to be a driving force for us,” admitted Sir Alex.
“I think we all agree we were careless in two of the games at home last season. The Basel game was the one where the criticism quite rightly lies. We were 2-0 up and playing well and then got careless in the second half and ended up drawing 3-3. That ended up knocking us out, really. We had to go there [to Basel] and get a result and we ended up chasing our tails.”
Meanwhile, with Ferguson seeking a strong start to the European campaign van Persie and Kagawa, if fit, will return to the side, while goalkeeper David de Gea could start after giving way to Anders Lindegaard in the past two Premier League matches. Elsewhere Ferguson will pick two from three of Antonio Valenica, Ashley Young and Nani. Saturday’s hero Paul Scholes is likely to be rested.
Galatasaray arrive as Turkish champions having won the Süper Lig by a single point last season – and Fatih Terim’s men have started the new campaign positively with two victories from three matches.
“We’ve watched a lot of video analysis of them. I think there are several points about them – they have two players we know about in Emmanuel Eboue and Johan Elmander who played in English football. They have two good central midfielders in Felipe Melo and Selcuk Inan and a centre-forward to look out for in Umut Bulut. That’s a good name for a centre-forward!
“I know from experience it’s never easy against Turkish teams. It will be a very close game tomorrow.”
Games against Galatasaray have rarely been anything else, with United having emerged victorious just once from four matches with the Turkish giants. Goals from David Beckham and Roy Keane helped the Reds to a 4-0 victory in the last meeting between the two sides in 1994, but calamitous draws with Gala a year earlier knocked United out of the European Cup on the away goals rule, with Eric Cantona famously sent off in a tumultuous match in Istanbul.
“It’s one of those memories that will always stick with you,” Ryan Giggs told ManUtd.com.
“When we arrived at the airport, there were all the banners and thousands of fans screaming at you. There were things thrown at us when we were driving away on the coach, fans outside the hotel chanting all night making sure we didn’t get any sleep and people phoning the hotel rooms. It had everything.
“But they were a good team and a good club. It is a fantastic game to be involved in, especially away from home. It is an atmosphere a lot of the lads won’t have witnessed before. The atmosphere back then was something I tried to enjoy as much as I could.
“The fans had been in the ground for hours and hours so it was buzzing 90 minutes before kick-off. We were stood in the middle of the pitch watching the fans chant. It was one stand to another. It was a brilliant atmosphere if I am honest but obviously the game didn’t pan out the way we wanted. They were a good team then and they will be a good team now.”
Meanwhile, Turkish manager Terim will be without injured captain Tomáš Ujfaluši, who will be sidelined until the new year after undergoing surgery to repair cruciate ligament damage he sustained to his left knee in training.
Terim, a former central defender, played for Galatasaray for over a decade and represented Turkey 51 times before going into coaching with MKE Ankaragücü and then Göztepe. He was appointed Turkey coach in 1993 and led the side to Euro ’96. In a hugely successful career, Terim has won four league titles with Galatasaray and the 2000 UEFA Cup.
After spells in Italy and again with the national side Terim returned for a third spell in charge of Galatasaray in May 2011, steering Cimbom to a first Süper Lig title in four years.
But for all the nous in the away dugout United will surely hold too much firepower for a more limited opponent. Then, supporters were confident last season as well. Too confident as it turned out – to United and the bean counters’ cost.
Manchester United v Galatasaray AŞ – Champions League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 19 September 2012, 7.45pm
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Evans, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Scholes, Fletcher, Valencia, Macheda, Young, Hernández, Welbeck
Galatasaray (4-3-3): Muslera; Eboue, Cris, Kaya, Balta; Melo, Inan, A Yilmaz; B Yilmaz, Elmander, Amrabat. Subs from: Altıntop, Zan, Gülselam, Riera, Nounkeu, Baroš, Bulut, Özçal, Ujfaluši, Birinci, Kurtuluş, Baytar, Çolak, Amrabat, Sarıoğlu, Yıldırım
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER)
Assistant referees: Jan-Hendrik Salver, Mike Pickel
Additional assistant: referees Tobias Welz, Christian Dingert
Overall: United 1, Galatasaray 0, Draw 3