Manchester United v CFR Cluj Preview
Old Trafford, Manchester
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Romanian champions Cluj will take the field at Old Trafford on Wednesday knowing they still have a reasonable chance of being included in the Champions League Round of 16 draw on December 20.
BREAKDOWN: Currently sixth in the domestic standings and 15 points adrift of leaders Steaua Bucharest, Cluj know they likely won’t be back in this competition next season and are hoping to make history this time around.
“[Progression] would be an amazing achievement,” remarked Cluj manager Paulo Sergio in his pre-match press conference. “Reaching the knockout phase in Europe is a great achievement and if that was in the Champions League it would be amazing.”
Win, lose or draw, Cluj are guaranteed a place in the Europa League at the very least, and with Manchester United shipping goals at the moment their chances of getting a result at Old Trafford could never be better.
On the other side of the ball United manager Sir Alex Ferguson likened his club’s recent defensive performances to a “Cartoon Cavalcade” in his pre-match remarks.
United conceded three times in the first half away to Reading on Saturday but managed to take all three points because of their own potency in front of goal, and Ferguson knows his side are flirting with disaster if those sorts of performances continue to be the norm.
“It’s a worry, a concern,” he acknowledged. “If we perform like that on Sunday [against Manchester City] God know what’ll happen to us.”
He continued, “We’re getting punished when balls go into the box, but we should be defending far better.
Regarding his teamsheet Ferguson admitted he would “rest some players” but also promised to “be fair to all the other teams who are trying to get important positions, either in the next stage of the Champions League or the Europa League.
Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will likely make way for Phil Jones and Alexander while Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck are expected to play from the beginning. It’s unlikely Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will be risked.
ESSENTIALS: United are still without captain Nemanja Vidic, and wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia are injured as well. Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa could come on as a second-half substitute.
The Red Devils have conceded the opening goal in 14 of their 22 matches so far this season.
Cluj are without both midfielder Bakary Sare and forward Ronny, both of whom are injured.
Cluj striker Rui Pedro, who played four seasons at Porto, scored a hat-trick against Braga on Matchday Five.
KEY BATTLE: Cluj winger Rafael Bastos, who came through at Brazilian side Bahia, will offer pace and trickery on his side’s right attacking flank and, if not kept in check, will function as Rui Pedro’s primary source of supply on Wednesday. He’ll be a handful for United’s 23-year-old left-back Alexander Buttner, who will be making his third Champions League appearance.
FORMATIONS: Ferguson will deploy a 4-2-3-1 with Chicharito alone up top and Welbeck, Cleverley and Ashley Young in support. Paulo Sergio will send out a 4-4-2 formation with Rui Pedro and Pantelis Kapetanos in the striking positions.
BETLINE: Manchester United 4/6; Draw 3/1; CFR Cluj 4/1. Robin van Persie scored twice as United won 2-1 at Cluj in the reverse fixture on October 2.