Ferguson ready to unleash Rooney for must-win game
THERE is a happy precedent about Manchester United failing to win either of their first two Champions League group stage games. Only in the season of 1998/99 have they done the same in the modern era and no one needs reminding what that campaign led on to.
But comparisons can be superficial. Draws against Benfica and Basel are a different proposition to those against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, which opened United victorious 1999 campaign. While the 3-3 draw in the Nou Camp that year told United how far they had come since the 4-0 defeat there in 1994, the same scoreline against Basel has contributed to the sense that United, with three draws in four, have lost a little of that August momentum.
One of Alex Ferguson's persistent themes is that every modest European side knows how to handle the major ones these days, and, with his side third in a delicately balanced group, it is likely that Wayne Rooney will be unleashed on Otelul Galati this evening.
Ferguson said he kept Rooney out of Saturday's incendiary Anfield tie because of the devastation of his three-game international ban, though his 21-minute role in midfield told him what he needed to know.
"When he came on he was quite bubbly," he said. "He was full of energy and enthusiasm. He was desperate to get on actually, which is good because when he was sat watching the game he probably said, 'Christ I could be out there'.
"He'll be playing tomorrow. He didn't expect (the ban). I don't think any of us did. To me, it was a silly action but it wasn't seriously dangerous. It was a slight reaction. When he realised getting a three-match ban meant missing all the games for England and might not be involved at all -- it is not easy to qualify in major championships -- that resonated in Wayne's mind."
There could be pitfalls here, even for United, who lost only one of their previous 24 away games in Europe.
Though the infrastructure of Otelul's stadium failed Uefa's standards, forcing the club to play at the National Arena, the Bucharest stadium staff have been working to rectify what has been described locally as "a pitch disaster". Ferguson said he was relaxed with the pitch, having watched a recording of Otelul's late 1-0 defeat to Benfica.
Ferguson's European invincibility has evaporated this season, and the draw against Basel prompted a sharp response from a manager who again accused his side of "complacency" in that match. He certainly has Sunday's Manchester derby on his mind, though for once he sounded convincing when he said that this is not a game he will toy with.
"We are disappointed with the position we are in. It's not a tournament where you can afford to be complacent and tomorrow night is important for us," he said.
Nemanja Vidic may be restored to central defence for the first time since injuring his calf on August 14, with Rio Ferdinand left in Manchester to recover from the rigours of a convincing performance at Anfield.
"It's difficult to say (if it's a must-win game) because it depends on what happens elsewhere," the manager said. "We'd like one team to win both games (the other is between Benfica and Basel) so that would take a lot of the pressure off us."
Local confidence is not exactly soaring. Otelul president Marius Stan declared yesterday that "the simple objective from the game is not to be embarrassed." Ferguson seeks substantially greater goals. (© Independent News Service)