Ferguson on the warpath over sloppy defence
ALEX FERGUSON has insisted that last Saturday's 3-2 defeat by Tottenham would be the last time such a defensive free-for-all happens on his watch.
When the Manchester United manager alters his training routine in order to outfox Romanian spies, it offers a fairly strong indication of his irritation levels with the recent performances of his players.
Ferguson, whose team abandoned tradition by not training in Cluj last night, rarely criticises his players in the public arena. However, as he prepared for tonight's Champions League tie against CFR Cluj, the Scot's warning left little room for misunderstanding.
Having refused to answer a soft question about Europe's Ryder Cup triumph during his pre-match press conference, Ferguson's impatience and anger with his side was obvious.
United have fallen behind in five of their six Premier League games this season, losing two of them.
Against Galatasaray last month, they survived a second-minute penalty scare after another example of slack defending and, with Cluj underlining their counter-attacking threat with victory in Braga two weeks ago, Ferguson admits that rigidity and solidity must return quickly to his team's defending.
"You have to be concerned losing goals the way we did against Tottenham," he said. "We were well off the pace of the game and I don't think we won a tackle in the first half.
"Based on our first half against Southampton, the first half at Liverpool and first half last Saturday, we have some work to do in that respect. It's not planned to start badly, but I don't think it will happen again.
"Fortunately, you saw the real Manchester United in the second half against Spurs, and that 45 minutes was probably our best performance of the season. But I had plenty of concerns after the first half." As a result of that performance, Ferguson's players worked on defensive drills at United's Carrington training ground yesterday morning before flying to Romania's second city.
Typically, United fly early to European destinations and train at the stadium in the evening to familiarise themselves with the playing surface, but they did not train at the 23,500-capacity Dr Constantin Radulescu Stadium last night.
Defending his team against allegations of arrogance by local media, Ferguson claimed that a fear of prying eyes has prompted the change of approach.
"Most of the time you go abroad and train on their pitch you can't do anything because everyone is watching," he said. "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.
"We know that Cluj are a team that defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball, but their 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."
United, who travelled without the virus-affected Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, have won on their two previous visits to Romania -- against Otelul Galati and Dinamo Bucharest -- but Cluj coach Ioan Andone insists that the three-time European champions no longer possess the fear factor.
"Fear? No, definitely not," he said. "I don't think you can speak about fear when playing United now.
"They are too professional to under-estimate us, but considering United are coming to the eastern part of Europe, our enthusiasm might make a difference and, if we can score, we've got a chance to win.
"That would bring us great prestige, and six points, which is very important for the club, the players and the region of Transylvania."
With last Saturday's starting midfield of Carrick, Scholes and Giggs unavailable, Ferguson is set to restore Anderson to the team.
"Anderson is a top player, but I still think that Scholes is a great player," said Ferguson, who dismissed the prospect of re-signing veteran defender Mikael Silvestre as a free agent after allowing the Frenchman to train with the club until December.
The United manager insisted that Cluj's impressive form in Europe this season -- five straight wins -- ensures his players will not be undone by complacency. He said: "We saw Cluj's performance in the last game against Braga and they also knocked out Basel in the qualifying rounds, beating them twice.
"We know from our own experience last season that Basel knocked us out of the competition, so that gives us every respect for Cluj because it tells you they're a good team." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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