Reigning German champions VfL Wolfsburg arrived in Manchester today ahead of the side’s Champions League Group B encounter with United at Old Trafford tomorrow night. The Bundesliga side, seeded the group’s worst team, arrives with few in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad expecting anything other than a thorough test for last season’s beaten finalists. But far from worrying about Wolfsburg, Ferguson is already looking beyond the group towards a third final in a row.
“I think the material is there for us to win the European Cup again. We have a good bunch of players. And if we win it, it won’t be the team that wins it, it’ll be the squad,” said Ferguson.
“But it’s not easy to win it, as we found out in last season’s final against Barcelona.”
“One mistake in a big game like that and you’re crucified, remember that. One mistake – dead,” he said.
United, on a seven match winning streak, emerged from a testing matchday one tie away to Besiktas with a 1-0 win, courtesy of Paul Scholes’ header. Ferguson, who will be without virus-struck South Korean winger Park Ji-Sung, is looking for a home win that would take his side to within a game of qualification. Nine points is normally enough to qualify, a fact not lost on the manager.
“If we keep our heads and play the right way in the group stage of the competition, I think we should qualify,” said Ferguson, who is likely to rotate his squad for the tie.
“When we get to the later stages, then we can start to think about getting to the final in Madrid.”
Wolfsburg, who won their first ever Bundesliga title in 2008-9, arrive at Old Trafford boasting the talents of Edin Džeko, one of the most coveted strikers in Europe. The Bosnian, who scored 26 league goals last season, was the subject of multiple bids from AC Milan in the summer.
Armin Veh’s side, which has suffered an uncertain start to the season with defeats against Hamburg, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, also boasts the talents of Brazilian Grafite and former Newcastle United striker Obefemi Martins. Grafite, named German Footballer of the Year after scoring 28 goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances last term, scored a hat-trick in Wolfsburg’s 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow. He is only the third overseas player to win the award after Aílton and, in 2008, Franck Ribéry.
However, the Wolkswagen-owned team, will be without new signing Thomas Kahlenberg, who is out with a long-term hip injury.
This is Wolfsburg’s first trip to England, although they did emerge victorious from their first encounter with a Premier League team last season – beating Portsmouth 3-2 in the UEFA Cup group stage with goals from Džeko, Zvjezdan Misimović and Christian Gentner.
Ferguson believe’s that it is not beyond Veh’s team to do well in this season’s competition.
“It says a lot for Wolfsburg’s position and progress that they did win the league last year and they did it in a very positive way with the goalscoring form they showed,” said Ferguson.
“They beat Bayern Munich 5-1 with only four or five games remaining and they won their final game 4-0 – that’s emphatic.
“Countries like Germany are always producing clubs capable of winning the Champions League. Yes, the last few years it has been dominated by the English teams in the semi finals and finals but there is always the possibility that someone else can come in to win the Champions League. If you take the final between Porto and Monaco just a few years ago, it’s a case in point.”
Ferguson’s main selection dilemmas are in midfield and up-front. Joining Park on the injury list could be Michael Owen, who is suffering from a minor groin strain. Although the former Liverpool striker took part in light training on Tuesday, he is unlikely to play unless 100% fit. While the manager has concentrated on developing the Dimitar Berbatov – Wayne Rooney partnership this season, there has been some expectation that Owen may start against Wolfsburg.
In midfield Paul Scholes, superb against Stoke City at the weekend, is unlikely to play twice in three days, with Anderson favourite to replace the former-England star. Ferguson must also choose who to start with on the wing. Ryan Giggs, who came on as substitute to such great effect against Stoke, may play in place of the infuriating Nani, who was so wasteful last time out.
Rooney, who has now scored 11 in 12 competitive games since June for club and country, will certainly start his 50th European game.
Ferguson’s United has not lost a home game in the Champions League since a 1-0 defeat by AC Milan in February 2005. Wolfsburg, despite its outstanding strike-force, is unlikely to break that record tomorrow night.