Manchester United will look to bounce back from their weekend disappointment against Tottenham with another win in Europe after a long flight to Romania.
For tactical reasons, the team trained at their home base in Carrington on Monday morning (UK time), before heading to Romania for the second of their group stage fixtures. Sir Alex stated that training at Carrington in the morning, rather than in Cluj’s stadium in the evening as would usually be the case, was a decision made by the club after last season’s dire performance in the Champions League, in the hope of maintaining a tactical edge over their opponents:
“We made a decision last season actually. Most of the time when you go abroad and train on their pitch you can’t do anything because everyone is watching. By training at our ground we could do what we wanted in terms of picking the team and anything tactical. It’s much better doing that at our own ground.
“As part of our preparations we have to assess the opposition and we saw their performance in the last game against Braga, they knocked out Basel, beating them twice. We know from our own experience last season that Basel knocked us out. That gives us every respect for Cluj because it tells you they’re a good team.
“Cluj defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball. The main strength is counter-attack, as they showed against Braga.
“Counter-attacking has become a very important part of European football. Now it’s done by four or five players, not one or two like 20 years ago, and the positive nature of the counter attack has made the Champions League much better.”
Sir Alex does have a number of injury concerns, and this time they are coming from midfield. The absence of Nemanja Vidic, as well as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, means United are still light at the back, but the 21-man squad that travelled to Romania was also without Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes:
“Carrick didn’t report today, he’s in bed with a virus. Ryan also felt rough this morning and we sent him home. We left Paul Scholes behind.
“Those three players are missing – two with a virus and Paul Scholes because, although he looked great this morning and played great on Saturday, at 37 years of age I can’t expect him to play three games like that [Tottenham, Cluj, Newcastle].”
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are also both out with injuries, meaning Nani is the only recognized winger in the squad, which might suggest a return to the narrower shape United employed with success against Newcastle last week in the Capital One Cup. Sir Alex’s comments about his respect for Cluj would indicate that he will play a very strong line up, meaning both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie could be starting in the same side for the first time this season.
CFR Cluj coach Ioan Andone was positive heading into one of the club’s biggest ever matches, stating that the hoped when the group stage was all done and dusted that it was United and his own side that would be the two teams representing Group H in the knockout stages:
“It will be a great match for us and for Romania too. Both teams won their first match in the group and it would be nice to qualify for the next stage together. I met United when I was coach of Dinamo Bucureşti, but that was two different teams, two different scenarios – it was a preliminary round fixture.
have a few players with experience in the Champions League, and we have the whole of Romania behind us. I hope our enthusiasm will make a difference. If we manage to score, we will have a chance. I don’t think you can speak about fear against United.”
Cluj are coming into the game on the back of a 5-1 thrashing of ACF Gloria 1922 Bistriţa, but currently sit in 6th place in the league with 16 points from the opening 10 games, making for something of a disappointing start for the reigning champions. They will also have one eye on their next fixture, a very important clash with the current league leaders, FC Steaua Bucureşti, which could help to define their domestic campaign.
The Champions League newcomers sit on top of the group heading into this encounter, after shocking Europe by taking maximum points from Portugal in their opening fixture with FC Braga.