After suffering a second defeat of the Premier League season on Saturday, United will turn their attentions to Europe, specifically Eastern Europe as United travel to Romania to play Group H underdogs, CFR Cluj-Napoca. The long-held formula for progression out of the group stage is that 10 points should secure progress and so after scraping a 1-0 victory in their opening group game against Galatasaray at Old Trafford, taking home the three points from Transylvania would go a long way to clinching progress to the knockout stages.
The need for a number of players to get games coupled with a tough game next weekend at Newcastle awaiting the Reds means that I expect there to be a number of changes to the team that started on Saturday. In my opinion, one of the reasons why United have struggled defensively this season is the constant chopping and changing of the goalkeeper which is surely going to breed uncertainty and instability amongst United’s defenders. Anders Lindegaard didn’t cover himself in glory on Saturday, exemplifying why David de Gea is regarded as the better shot-stopper and I’d expect de Gea to start on Tuesday night (and hopefully on Sunday as well), particularly as he isn’t likely to face the aerial bombardment that is symptomatic of the Premier League.
In defence, United have very few options. Although Ferdinand endured a torrid Saturday evening as the Spurs attack exposed his lack of pace – once such a key feature of his game – the Cluj frontline shouldn’t give Rio such a taxing evening. Jonny Evans is a doubt after ending the Spurs game limping – he was later diagnosed as suffering from a dead leg – and so either Scott Wootton or Michael Keane may get another opportunity to showcase their talents. At left-back, I expect Alexander Buttner to start with Patrice Evra being rested ahead of the trip to the North-East on Sunday.
On Saturday the two-pronged monster of Dembele and Sandro exposed the issues in United’s central midfield where the presence of a mobile, physical presence is sorely missed. Against Cluj, Anderson may start with the manager often preferring to use him in Europe whilst Sir Alex remarked that Darren Fletcher – who was once the mobile ‘runner’ in midfield before illness derailed his career – may start against the Romanian Champions.
In attack, United have a wealth of options and I’d expect the manager to rotate with Robin van Persie given a rest. Wayne Rooney, whose half-time introduction was the catalyst for United’s impressive 2nd half showing on Saturday, will be raring to start and I’d expect him to partner either Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez who have found opportunities limited so far this season.
Predicted XI: De Gea, Rafael, Wootton, Ferdinand, Buttner, Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Cleverley, Welbeck, Rooney
The Romanian champions currently sit top of Group H, having picked up a surprise victory on the opening matchday away in Braga. Despite ceding 73% possession to the Portuguese side, Cluj came away with the three points courtesy of two goals from Brazilian midfielder Rafael Bastos, formerly of Braga. The team based in Transylvania – the fabled home of Dracula – currently sit fifth in the 18 team Liga 1 having picked up 16 points from their opening 10 games and come into Tuesday’s game on the back of a 5-1 victory against Gloria Bistrita.
The Romanian side boast a large Portuguese speaking contingent with 6 of their starting eleven against Braga being either Portuguese or Brazilian. Chief amongst them is the goalkeeper, Mario Felgueiras, who turned in a fantastic performance against Braga producing save after save to secure the clean sheet for Cluj. In midfield, the aforementioned Bastos and Senegalese winger Modou Sougou provide pace and aim to create chances for Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos whose 12 goals last season were crucial in Cluj winning the league. The Uruguayan striker Jorge Martinez, who enjoyed a successful period with Catania before finding opportunities limited at Juventus, may pose problems for United if selected.
Predicted XI: Felgueiras, Ivo Pinto, Cadu, Rada, Camora, Rafael Bastos, Muresan, Sepsi, Luis Alberto, Sougou, Kapetanos
Although no game away in Europe is easy as last season’s European encounters proved, the trip to Cluj should hold no trepidation for United and the Reds will be expecting to come away with all three points from the Dr. Constantin Radulescu stadium. Last season, United travelled to Romania to take on Otelul Galati and despite playing poorly, eventually pierced the stout Otelul defence and ended up winning 2-0. A repeat result would do nicely although hopefully the performance is more impressive.
Manchester United Traveling Squad