Robin van Persie celebrates with Wayne Rooney after scoring two goals against Cluj
Manchester United welcome Romanian Champions CFR Cluj to Old Trafford for the first time as group H reaches it climax. United are already through to the last sixteen having secured qualification in week four away at Braga. Cluj may well be struggling in their domestic campaign but have it all to play for in the Champions League. The Stretty Rant was lucky enough to interview a Romanian journalist discussing the chances of Cluj this season and he believes their best opportunity is in this game against United. Here we discuss the opposition, a potential United lineup and injury news.
Usually we have a Q&A discussing the opposition and their views on the opposition. Unfortunately, we couldn’t obtain this for the preview, however I would fully recommend reading the interview linked to in the introduction. Cluj need to hope that Braga beat Galatasaray at home and the Romanians pick up at least a point at Old Trafford to guarantee qualification to the next round. They currently lie third in the table, level on points with the Turkish Champions, however have only picked up a single point in their head to head record. The table below highlights group H after week 5:
Table courtesy of UEFA.com
Radu Baicu said in the interview he kindly did for us that the likelihood of Cluj taking anything off United, would be in this game with United already through. With United likely to field a weakened side, due to qualification and the Manchester derby swiftly approaching on Sunday, you wouldn’t bet against that prediction. The Romanians know that they need a favour in Portugal from Braga, so will no doubt field their strongest side possible. Their last five domestic results are as follows:
- 01/12 Gaz Metan Mediaş 1-1 CFR Cluj
- 24/11 Universitatea Cluj 1-2 CFR Cluj
- 16/11 CFR Cluj 0-2 Astra Giurgiu
- 11/11 Concordia Chiajna 1-2 CFR Cluj
- 03/11 CFR Cluj 5-0 Braşov
They currently lie 6th in their domestic league (after 18 games) and trail Steaua Bucuresti by 15 points. Just to put their last domestic defeat into perspective, Astra Giurgiu are in 2nd spot at present. Paulo Sergio will no doubt be looking to centre midfielder Muresan to improve on his six goals so far this season (although none have so far come in the Champions League) and Senegalese winger Modou Sougou, who is the sides top goal scorer in the tournament so far with four Champions League goals to his name. The Romanians are without Bakary Saré who is out for the foreseeable future with a broken leg.
Manchester United injury news & team selection
Sir Alex Ferguson on Nemanja Vidic
There are conflicting reports regarding the return of club captain Nemanja Vidic, with many newspapers suggestion he could indeed make a return ahead of Sunday’s clash with Manchester City against Cluj. Sir Alex Ferguson was quoted in the press conference leading up to the match as saying:
"He feels he needs another few days’ training so he won’t be available. He’s not far away. He’s training well now but I think another few days will bring him on better. If he doesn’t play tomorrow, there’s no chance he’ll play in the derby game. I wasn’t considering Nemanja for Sunday anyway. Playing tomorrow would have been a bonus but Sunday would have been too soon."
Sir Alex Ferguson banned two journalists earlier in the season following leaked news that Rio Ferdinand would miss the Everton game through injury. The manager does like to keep us all guessing and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vidic did play this evening but missed out on Sunday’s match against City.
Sir Alex Ferguson on resting players
As he did in Turkey, Sir Alex will rest a number of players as United’s qualification is assured. Ferguson was quoted as saying:
"We’ll rest some players tomorrow, as we did against Galatasaray. But we have to be fair to all the teams who are trying to reach important positions – whether that’s the Champions League or the Europa League."
The manager may be citing fairness as a reason for the squad rotation, but no doubt the match on Sunday combined with giving playing time to members of the squad that haven’t featured so much this season as the real factor in his team decision for tomorrow.
Other injury news
Antonio Valencia, Nani and Kagawa are all out, however the manager spoke about the Japanese star’s progress since he was ruled out for a further month only two weeks ago:
"Kagawa has started running today. I don’t think he’ll make Sunday, he may make the bench, but that kind of possibility is why I can’t answer that question. I will pick a team [against Cluj] without any thoughts about the Manchester City game. It’s a matter of who I think needs a game."
Brazilian midfielder Anderson, who scored United’s first goal in the 4-3 victory over Reading at the weekend, is expected to miss four weeks after the United medical team discovered a partial tear of his hamstring.
Manchester United potential lineup
Manchester United lined up narrow away in Cluj and could well lineup the same way, especially with injuries to Nani and Valencia significantly reducing the amount of wingers Sir Alex has to choose from. Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs are available, however – this is the side we have gone for tomorrow based upon Fergie’s comments:
Firstly, De Gea hasn’t played for United since the 3-2 victory over Aston Villa, however – this would be an ideal game to get the young Spaniard back involved and to ‘give those players that need a game’ a chance. I am a fan of De Gea and I think he’ll make a top class keeper one day. Many criticisms are aimed at his ability to dominate his six yard area and of course, collecting crosses without flapping. This may be true, but many of De Gea’s attributes simply cannot be taught and he is capable of making some truly remarkable saves.
Rafael, who has played the most games for United this season despite getting substituted in the first half on Saturday, will most probably start at right back. This may not be the case against City as Sir Alex may look to deploy the taller and more physical Chris Smalling, as he used to do with John O’Shea in his time at Old Trafford. Smalling may have lost out to Kompany in the 1-0 defeat to City last season, but his is more capable of dealing with diagonal balls from wide areas as proved on Saturday.
If Vidic isn’t fit (which is a distinct possibility), Evans will surely step in alongside Smalling, with Buttner getting some game time in place of Evra. Fletcher, as he did against Newcastle in the League Cup, will sweep in front of the defence with Cleverley and Jones advanced to the right and left. Rooney will operate in the hole behind Hernandez and Welbeck, who will surely be asked to cover on the left hand side as he did against Galatasaray in the opening game of Group H.
Do you think United will line up like this? Please leave your comments below.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 CFR Cluj
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