Manchester United head into the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Bayern Munich a goal down, shorn of its best player and seemingly shattered. Two defeats in a week have left United teetering on the brink in the Premier League and Europe, with fatigue and confidence conspiring against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
United’s 2-1 defeat in the Allianz Arena eight days ago, with the attached last-minute injury to Wayne Rooney’s ankle, has dominated both the headlines and Ferguson’s thinking. The crushing Old Trafford reverse to Chelsea last Saturday only compounding the Scot’s problems.
But Ferguson’s sides are nothing if not resilient with Ryan Giggs demanding belief ahead of the crunch tie with Bayern tonight.
“Losing successive matches does not shake the belief of the players,” said Giggs.
“When you look around the dressing room and see the players around you, the belief has to be there because there is so much talent.
“We have been looking sharp in training over the last couple of days so the preparation has been good. As a professional you are disappointed when you have one bad result. When you have a couple it is even more disappointing.
“But you always have that next game to rectify that. Hopefully we can do it. I am sure we will.”
Ferguson, impressed by Munich’s endeavor in the first leg, is set to pick a side full of pace and purpose at Old Trafford. The much criticised Dimitar Berbatov will likely be flanked by both Nani and Antonio Valencia in attacking.
The Scot may also choose Rafael da Silva and Park Ji-Sung in a side without United’s legendary veteran trio of Paul Scholes, Giggs and Gary Neville but brimming with energy. John O’Shea could make the bench following a four-month injury absence.
The crowd has it’s part to play according to the Scot, with Ferguson echoing Giggs’ call for a rousing reception at Old Trafford that could send United into a semi-final meeting with Olympique Lyonnais or Girodins Bordeaux at the end of April.
“Old Trafford has that suction behind the goal, in the Stretford End in the second half the ball gets sucked into the goal,” he said.
“It’s amazing. It’s not always in respect of the team, the fans sometimes make it happen. Those last-minute goals, there are too many to count, it’s not by accident. It’s the way we play.”
While the media’s attention has been firmly on Wayne Rooney’s ankle over the past week – the England striker returning to light training on Monday – there is little chance of the former Evertonian starting tomorrow according to Ferguson.
“He’s got no chance,” said Ferguson.
“We’ve made some good progress with the lad, the medical team have done fantastic, but I’m not prepared to take a risk on a player who is not 100 per cent fit.”
“You can’t take a risk with a player who is not 100 per cent.”
But the Scot intimated that Rooney, who missed United’s open training session Tuesday morning, could make the bench if the Scouser is persistent enough.
The striker took place in a closed full-sized practice match away from the media’s eyes Tuesday afternoon, although a substitute appearance against Blackburn Rovers next weekend is still the more likely outcome.
“I don’t think he will be on the bench although he might talk me into it, it is a difficult one,” Ferguson joked.
In reality United will have to change its lethargic approach in the past two ties without its 34-goal hitman. At least from the start.
Once again the focus is on Berbatov to support the pace of United’s attacking play. Much against the Bulgarian’s instincts. Perhaps more importantly Ferguson’s side must keep possession better than at any stage over the past week.