Manchester United hasn’t face Romanian opposition in seven years, with the Eastern European nation failing to produce a side of note since Steaua Bucharest made the European Cup final in 1986. But following Saturday’s timid draw with Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson has promised a full-strength side will face Romanian champions Oțelul Galați on Tuesday night.
With just two points from the side’s opening games, United is under surprising pressure to deliver victory in one of the Champions League’s easier groups. Indeed, anything bar victory could leave the Reds vulnerable to the unthinkable: elimination at the group stage.
Ferguson’s quest to end that line of thinking is boosted captain Nemanja Vidic’s return to the side, with the Serbian recovering from a longstanding calf problem. The defender’s return will compensate for the loss of Rio Ferdinand, who has been left in Manchester as a precautionary measure ahead of the derby next weekend. Jonny Evans is likely to start alongside captain Vidic, with Phil Jones reprising his recent role at right-back.
“I think we have to win tomorrow and I’ll play a strong team,” said Ferguson.
“I could play several teams and I’d consider them strong enough to win. This isn’t a tournament you can afford to be complacent in. Tomorrow’s game is very important for us. I guess it depends on what happens in the other tie [Basel v Benfica]. The important thing is for us to win. That solves all the problems.
“We have to progress in the Champions League and then we have four or five days to recover for the Sunday game against City. The timescale for recovery is perfect for us and it’s the same for City as well.”
Meanwhile, Ferguson says Wayne Rooney will start in Romania, after overcoming the apparent mental anguish that the striker suffered in the wake of UEFA’s Euro 2012 ban. Rooney will sit out all of England’s group matches in the tournament, with Fabio Capello reportedly undecided whether to take the striker to Poland and Ukraine at all.
Ferguson left Rooney out of United’s starting line-up at Anfield, ostensibly under the banner of Rooney’s mental health, although a string of poor performances in the past against Liverpool will presumably have made the decision easier.
“I think he’s OK,” the United manager said on Monday.
“Actually when he came on he was quite bubbly. He was full of energy and enthusiasm. He was desperate to get on actually ,which is good because when he sat watching the game he probably said: ‘Christ I could be out there.’ He’ll be playing tomorrow.
“The initial news was a definite blow for him. He didn’t expect that. 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 but to get a three-match ban. When he realised getting three-match ban meant missing all the games for England and that he might not be involved at all, as England know how difficult it is to get out of a group, that resonated in Wayne’s mind.”
Ferguson should start the Scouser alongside Mexican striker Javier Hernandez for the match, which will be played at the National Stadium in Bucarest, and not at Galați’s 13,000-capacity local ground. Winger Nani is also in line for a recall in what promises to be a far more attacking line-up than the one which began against Liverpool on Saturday. Indeed, with Galați having lost its opening games against Benfica and Basel many regard the Romanians as the Champions League’s weakest team.
“We’ve watched Galați a few times and I watched the video of them against Benfica,” added Ferguson.
“Their system is like a lot of systems in Europe – they play with two wide men and one through the middle, one midfielder in the hole… a lot of European teams are playing this way now. We’ve got a good idea about how the game should be played tomorrow and we hope we can get the result we want.”
To do that United must defend better than Ferguson’s team has in the tournament to date. Last season’s runners-up did not concede a single goal in 540 minutes of away action en route to the final.
Yet history bodes well, with United having beaten Dinamo Bucharest on the only previous occasion on which the club has met Romanian opposition. Goals from Alan Smith, David Bellion and Ryan Giggs contributed to a 5-1 aggregate win in the 2004 third qualification round, which included a 2-1 win in the Romanian capital.
Moreover, the last time United failed to win either of its first two games in the Champions League group phase was in 1998/99 when Ferguson’s ended up lifting the trophy at Camp Nou. Mind you, those opening draws included a 3-3 with Barcelona at Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, Oţelul may have never previously met at English club but the club’s coach, Dorinel Munteanu, has enjoyed two high-profile victories over the national team. He scored in a 3-2 win against England at Euro 2000 – a result that knocked England out – while Munteanu also played in Roamnia’s 2-1 defeat of the English at the 1998 World Cup.
Galați will begin the game in rude health too, with Cornel Râpă and Gabriel Paraschiv returned to action last Friday.
Yet all eyes will be on Rooney and yet another dramatic return to the United side in the striker’s ever turbulent story.
Oţelul Galaţi versus Manchester United, Champions League, National Stadium Bucharest, Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7.45pm
Oţelul Galaţi (4-2-3-1): Grahovac; Skubič, Filip, Ljubinković, Antal; Ibeh , Buş; Costin, Pena , Giurgiu; Perendija. Subs from: Viglianti, Frunză, Punoševac, Sălăgeanu, Paraschiv, Râpă, Benga, Iorga, Frunză, Ilie, Cojoc, Chavez, Buchta, Novac.
United (4-4-1-1): Lindegaard; Jones, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Nani, Anderson, Fletcher, Young; Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: De Gea, Smalling, Fabio, Pogba, Carrick, Park, Giggs, Berbatov, Welbeck, Valencia, Owen, Diouf.
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Assistant referees: Thorsten Schiffner, Mark Borsch
Additional assistant referees: Christian Dingert, Tobias Welz
Fourth official: Peter Gagelmann