Having won their first four games – and therefore guaranteed qualification from the group with two games to spare – United will once again field an under-strength side in Wednesday night’s (7.45pm KO) Group H encounter. With the clash against City coming up this Sunday also, expect to see a selection of U21 and squad players being given a run-out, as was the case with the away game in Galatasary. Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that Wayne Rooney will start, likely to be joined by the likes of Jones, Smalling, Powell, Buttner and De Gea in goal. CFR Cluj still have a chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages themselves, but will most likely need a win. Even then, they are relying on Galatasary slipping up in Braga. Regardless, a defeat at Old Trafford will see the Romanian champions exit the competition.
AT A GLANCE
United: Nani, Kagawa remain long-term absentees. Anderson out. Valencia out. Van Persie, Carrick, Ferdinand, Evra likely to be rested. Rooney starts. Hernandez has 3 goals in 5 CL starts.
Home CL record: P2 W2 D0 L0 F4 A2 Pts6
CL form: W W W W L
CFR Cluj: Laszlo Sepsi out. Mario Felgueiras, Camora, Ivo Pinto and Ricardo Cadu CL ever-presents. Rui Pedro top CL scorer with 3 goals (hat-trick v Braga). Must better Galatasary’s result to qualify.
Away CL record: P2 W1 D1 L0 F3 A1 Pts4
CL form: W L D L W
Previous meeting: CFR Cluj 1-2 United (02-10-12)
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy). 3 CL matches refereed, 5 yellow cards issued. No penalties or red cards.
Senegalese forward, Modou Sougou, has 4 assists, the second-highest in the competition. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (5) has better.
Jonny Evans (91%) is United’s most successful passer of the football. Ricardo Cadu (60%) boasts Cluj’s highest success rate.
Cluj have an unbeaten away record in this season’s competition (1 win, 1 draw). United have won both their home fixtures (1-0 and 3-2).
United (9 goals) and Cluj (8 goals) are the top scorers in Group H.
United have a 100% win record against Romanian opposition (P5 W5 F11 A2).
United have completed just 4 of 23 attempted crosses in this season’s Champions League (17%). Cluj’s record of 4 from 12 (14%) is even worse.
Cluj have commited 89 fouls – the third highest in the competition. However, they have only received 8 cautions, the fifth lowest.
SAF on Wayne Rooney: “When Wayne gets interrupted he needs three games to get back… That’s why he’ll definitely play tomorrow.”
So Rooney is in. He’ll likely be joined in attack by Javier Hernandez – who has started all but the first of United’s Champions League games this season – and Danny Welbeck, starved of starts of late. With City away looming large, Robin van Persie will be wrapped up in cotton wool and given the night off.
In goal, David de Gea should come in. He will be eager to impress – Anders Lindegaard’s inauspicious display against Reading at the weekend has surely, once again, opened the goalkeeping door. A solid display could see DDG come into the side for the derby. Fingers crossed.
At the back, as was the case for the game in Galatasary, expect to see Ferdinand, Evans and Evra rested. Rafael is due a break (despite having 60 odd minutes off on the weekend!) and having Chris Smalling and Phil Jones back means rotation is possible. Alexander Buttner also started the game in Turkey and should come into the side once again to replace Evra. While it looked as though, at one point, captain Nemanja Vidic would return, this now looks unlikely. While his return would be a big boost, bringing him back into the fold before he is ready is a mistake Fergie will not want to make twice. Scott Wooton has been included in the squad and could be in with a shout of a start.
In midfield, Antonio Valencia has been ruled out. The winger could make an appearance at the weekend. With Nani still sidelined, United once against find themselves bereft of wide players. Rooney played a wide right position against Reading and was probably the best player on the pitch, but doesn’t belong there. Danny Welbeck could be utilised on the wing (again), but as I keep saying, he IS NOT a winger. Phil Jones – fit again – could come into a centre-midfield position and allow Michael Carrick a night off. Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley, who didn’t feature at the weekend, are other options. Anderson, of course, is injured (hamstring), muddying the centre-midfield waters somewhat. Darren Fletcher is unlikely to start having played the full 90 minutes at the Madejski, while the likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe and, particularly, Nick Powell will be hoping to feature also.
With Cluj still in with the chance of qualifying for the latter stages of the competition, United will have to be professional and concentrated. The away side have the ammunition to do us damage, should we give them the time and space to do so. The players who come in should not anticipate an easy night, or goals such as those conceded against Braga can be expected. With the derby coming up this weekend, I hope to see more players play themselves into contention (looking at you, David!) than out of it.
Predicted United line-up: De Gea, Rafael, Smalling, Wooton, Buttner, Jones, Cleverley, Giggs, Welbeck, Hernandez, Rooney
Manager Paulo Sergio on qualification chances: “It would be an amazing achievement. I think that at the moment we should be happy that we’ll at least be in the Europa League.”
The Romanian side head to Old Trafford knowing they have to better Galatasary’s result in Braga. A draw is imperative, a win probably necessary. The 3-1 defeat they suffered at the hands of the Turkish side, in their own back yard, has seriously hampered their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages. So, while they travel to Manchester full of determination and a “nothing to lose” attitude, an early United goal, and/or news of a Galatasary lead, could see heads drop. They are, after all, guaranteed a place in the Europa League.
Mario Felgueiras, who hasn’t missed a minute of Champions League action this season, will start in goal. He has conceded 7 goals in 5 matches, including a Robin van Persie double in Romania.
In defence, expect to see Ivo Pinto at right-back and Ricardo Cadu at centre-back – the two have played every CL match so far. They will be joined by Ionut Rada and, with Laszlo Sepsi missing, Felice Piccolo. Domestically, Cluj have conceded 22 goals (an average of 1.22 goals per game) which is not too dissimilar a record to United’s! (although they have played 3 games more.)
Cluj will likely line up with a 5-man midfield, consisting on 2 holding midfield players and 3 attackers, and one up top. Camora is yet to miss a CL game this season, Rui Pedro is their top CL scorer and Mamadou Sougou has the second-highest assist record in the competition. Along with Brazilian midfielder Rafael Bastos – the fourth most fouled player in the CL – the four ensure Cluj have a very handy front line. Sougou and Rui Pedro in particular, both pacey, tricky players, will be dangerous on the break. United will have to be wary of these players – they must close them down quickly and not allow them to get their heads up and play. If the Cluj forward players are given time and space on the ball, they can, and will, cause us problems. Sitting behind this talented quartet we should find Luis Alberto and Gabriel Muresan.
Cluj have nothing to lose and we should fully expect them to arrive at Old Trafford eager to make the most of the opportunity. They have already survived until after Christmas in a European competition for the first time in their history; this, if anything, is a bonus match. Win and they could ensure it’s Champions League football, not Europa. Cluj will also be buoyed by what will surely be a shadow United side. So, while qualification might be in the bag, concentration will be required. Without it, an upset could be on the cards. Either way, expect goals.
CFR Cluj predicted line-up: Felgueiras, Pinto, Cadu, Piccolo, Rada, Luis Alberto, Muresan, Sougou, Camora, Rui Pedro, Bastos
Score prediction: United 2-2 CFR Cluj