Complacency no more after Euro draw

It is one of football’s more sopophiric banalities; that an entity – be it player, manager, or heavily indebted multi-national corporation – must ‘hold his/her’s/its hands up’ in the face of glaring error. Yet, it is a cliché, if one must be used, appropriate to Manchester United’s European performance last season. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team certainly didn’t do anything useful with its collective feet.

Not that United’s great Scot will admit his error, of course, in setting a complacent tone from the off – an accent that his squad was unable to rid through 10 games in two failed competitions as the Reds crashed out of both the Champions and Europa Leagues in embarrassing fashion. No more  “stupid mistakes” says United’s 70-year-old manager, even with United facing up to one of the competition’s easier groups.

Indeed, in facing Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj in this season’s Champions League group stage there will be a stern test of Ferguson’s resolve in promising to play his strongest team in the competition. The temptation to rotate heavily will surely remain on the cusp of Ferguson’s thinking. After all, United’s manager made ten changes for last season’s opener away at Benfica.

If Ferguson’s attitude in making heavy and regular changes in last season’s European competitions proved a forebear for his players’ complacency, then surely the same mistake cannot be made twice? Time will tell.

“After the experience of last year, we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time,” admitted Ferguson after Thursday’s draw.

“We will play our strongest team to make sure we get through. We have the experience of playing against Galatasaray in the past and we will always remember the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners. So it’s always a difficult type of match.

“We have drawn Portuguese clubs a number of times over the past few years – the likes of Benfica, Sporting and Porto – so we have the experience of playing in Portugal on many occasions. Braga are one of the improving teams in that country. Obviously, we’ve never played Cluj before.”

The irony, of course, is that United could hardly have hoped for a better draw in terms of quality. Galatasary’s forward partnership of Johan Elmander and Milan Baroš is unlikely to strike fear into Red hearts, while Braga finished third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season.  Romanian Champions Cluj has lost 50 per cent of its Champions League games to date.

Yet, the draw will require United to fly more than 7,000 miles over the course of the group stage – one of the longest possible travel burdens, although having trawled around three times further this summer Ferguson’s squad is well used to the joys of the jet-set.

But travel has a mental and physical affect that will prompt rotation in Europe, the Premier League or both. Cynics might suggest Ferguson is likely to go back on his Euro-word. Rant couldn’t possibly comment.

“Of course, you always want short journeys for the group games, but it hasn’t happened in this draw,” confirms midfielder Paul Scholes, who is likely to be rested for much of the Euro campaign.

“We know it won’t be easy – it’s always difficult to get through the group stages as we found last year. But as long as we win our home games and try and pick up a couple of away wins we should be okay. We were disappointing at Old Trafford last season and conceded too many goals.”

It is a pattern that Ferguson cannot afford his team to repeat, although the Reds certainly need some better fortune with defensive injuries.

And while draw may have been kind, the fixture list poses plenty of questions. United will play away matches against Liverpool, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Manchester City after Champions League group ties. Expect some tough games for the Reds during the autumn and early winter.

Meanwhile, whatever team Ferguson selects fans will enjoy away days at new Euro venues at least, with United having never met Portuguese side Braga, nor Romanians Cluj. Braga, Portugal’s third biggest city, is ‘European Youth Capital 2012′, although travelling Reds are more likely to sample the old town tavernas rather than the youth-related cultural, social, and political events in the year-long festival!

Cluj, Romania’s second-city, will host United for the first time at the tight, but wonderfully named Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu. The tie marks another step in the remarkable ascent of the club, which was playing third tier football just a decade ago.

Memories of United’s now infamous visits to Istanbul in 1993 and 1994 will be recalled in the clash against Galatasaray in late November. Eric Cantona was sent-off against the Turks during United’s elimination from the Champions League in 1993, with referee Kurt Rothlisberger later accused of taking a bribe from a Galatasary director.

Fun though those trips may be, success in this year’s competition is paramount, not only for the fans, but the team and United’s bean-counters too. After all, the club lost around £20 million in potential revenues by crashing out of Europe’s premier competition early last season.

It’s just one of many reasons supporters will be closely following Sir Alex’ promise to play his strongest team in Europe this year.

Champions League fixtures
Galatasaray (H) 19 September
Cluj (A) 2 October
Braga (H) 23 October
Braga (A) 7 November
Galatasaray (A) 20 November
Cluj (H) 5 December

Champions League Groups
Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, PSG, Dinamo Zagreb.
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiacos, Montpellier.
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.
Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.
Group H: UNITED, Braga, Galatasary, Cluj

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  1. says

    I think the point on Fergie being tempted to tinker considering the draw we have is a good one. It will certainly test his resolve to stand by previous statements.

    Travelling any sort of distance always worries me. After Cluj (A) we’re away at Newcastle and Braga (A) away at Villa – both potential for an upset. Temptation to rotate will be there again.

    Still, with the travelling, I bet DHL are happy.

  2. marlon says

    Don’t see how we can play our best team against those sides. It’s a joke of a group. We have some tough games in the PL after those as well.

  3. marlon says

    Travelling really shouldn’t be a problem. Look at the distances they travel in N. America for every game. NHL teams travel 50,000 miles over their season. We should just deal with it and stop making pathetic excuses.

    Anyway I’d be much more worried about the fixtures after our home games considering there is Chelsea, Liverpool and City away.

  4. AnantaxAnantax says

    I am no professional footballer but I do wonder if travel is all that draining?

    I used to travel heavily for work (once flew 68,000 miles in 2 months!) and with the right scheduling and the right class of travel (ie not cattle class) you can do it with minimum strain…

    Of course i might be horribly wrong but i do wonder…

    Having said that, Fergie will definitely tinker. No way he’d risk injury or unfreshness before key clashes with City or other title rivals. My hope is that he wil tinker with 2-3 players instead of 5-6!

    • says

      I think, at this level of the game, there’s not much between the top clubs – every little thing matters. You’d rather play a team who has been to Russia and back than Spain. It may only be a mental thing, but mental fatigue can be just as debilitating.

  5. Alex says

    Ed, I hate you and your articles. You are a horrible twit of a fan and are like a parasite. Screw off be a real fan or support the scousers. GGMU

      • Alex says

        Matter of fact Ed I’ve been to loads of matches both in the US and at OT. And I believe you are a total piss ant and a pecimist who is an embarrassment to our club. Verona is nice by the way

        • says

          Alex – it’s “pissant” and “pessimist”. I really hope that you’re a pupil and not a teacher. Given your email address I’d assumed the latter. I’m really hoping for the kids that it’s the former. By the way, what’s your contribution here – aside from throwing around the insults?

  6. ForeverRed says

    “After the experience of last year, we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time”

    Comments like this make you scratch your head and wonder if this is a rookie, or a manager whose been involved in European competition for over quarter of a century.

  7. AnantaxAnantax says

    Ed said:
    Alex – how is Verona, Wisconsin? When you’ve actually been to a match then come back and have a go.

    Ed. Are you replying to some other post? How come I cant see it?

  8. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    This is a blog and a place for opinions. Unfortunately that means we a subject to yours.

    You’re not subject to anything… you can always just fuck off.

  9. says

    Anantax said:
    Ed. Are you replying to some other post? How come I cant see it?

    Replying to a comment on the blog. For some reason it hasn’t synced with the forum for some reason… be upgrading this platform soon. It’s way too buggy.

    Editor & Moderator at
  10. Damian Garside says

    A thought: Real Madrid in the same CL group as City. Mourinho may have got Essien on loan in order to neutralize the power of Toure in MF for the two meetings with City. Wish our manager thousand was as strategically-minded

  11. Gabagool says

    Hopefully he’ll select a strong team for the early games so we’ll be safely through before the away trip to turkey. Can’t help thinking he’ll manage to throw a few curve balls in there for us though.

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