Wayne Rooney will play as Manchester United welcome Rangers to Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson dropped the striker for United’s visit to Goodison Park following a week of lurid headlines about Rooney’s sex-life but the manager says he has no regrets despite dropped points for the second time this season.
Manchester will breathe a collective sigh of relief if the match passes without incident. On Rangers’ last visit to the city in May 2008 more than 150,000 fans descended on Piccadilly Gardens for the UEFA Cup final against Zenit St. Petersburg. Frustration with failing city centre public screens and defeat to the Russians descended into chaos and violence.
However, with just 3,500 visiting fans allocated tickets – and forced to visit Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium before traveling to Old Trafford – few expect the post-match headlines to be anything other than football-related, with the emphasis on Rooney’s return to the fold.
Ferguson says that he did the right thing taking Rooney out of United’s match against Everton, with the player desperate to start tomorrow night.
“I don’t think there’s any need for any encouragement, I did the right thing. I have no concerns about playing him, none at all,” said Ferguson ahead of United’s first fixture against Rangers since 2003.
“He’s a terrific player and I think his performance for England in scoring was a good boost to him. We expect a good performance from him tomorrow and look forward to it.
“He’ll be looking forward to it, all our players look forward to European occasions, we’ve had some memories and great nights at this club. There have been some great memories here.”
United beat the Scottish champions home and away in the 2003/4 competition, with Phil Neville scoring the winner at a raucous Ibrox in the away leg. In-form Diego Forlan scored spectacular goal after five minutes of the 3-0 win at Old Trafford.
Few expect anything other than a comfortable win for United on Tuesday night, with Scottish football largely in the doldrums. Indeed, Rangers is the only Scottish side to have qualified for either the Champions or Europa Leagues this season.
Not that Ferguson will allow his players to be sucked into the kind of defensive complacency that cost the club points in recent matches against Fulham and Everton.
“You’ve got to respect Rangers and with their history you can’t take them for granted,” said Ferguson, who played 41 times for Rangers, scoring 25 goals between 1967-9.
“I know Walter Smith well and just how organised and difficult to beat his side will be. Walter will get a good glass of wine after the match but, hopefully, that’s all he’ll get.”
Smith, previously Rangers manager 1991-1998, briefly assisted Ferguson before becoming Scotland coach in 2004. On returning to his boyhood club, Smith has led the blue half of Glasgow to two successive league titles. His haul over two spells at Rangers comprises nine league titles, five Scottish Cups and five Scottish League Cups.
For United, Ferguson will choose between in-form Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen or Javier Hernández to partner Rooney in a probable 4-4-2 system. With a fully fit squad available – Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves aside – Ferguson is liable to rotate, with Paul Scholes likely to sit out the game ahead of United’s fixture with Liverpool next Sunday.
The fixture could also feature returns for Anderson and Rio Ferdinand. While Anderson is likely to feature from the bench, Ferdinand could start his first match since prior to the World Cup following a knee ligament injury.
Rafael is suspended following his red card against Bayern Munich in last season’s quarter-final second leg.
Meanwhile, Rangers will train at Old Trafford today ahead of tomorrow’s game hoping to improve on last season’s performance when the Scottish champions finished last in their group. The Glasgow club’s results in Europe have hardly been helped by financial restrictions that limited manager Walter Smith’s spending in the transfer market.
Recent signing James Beattie from Stoke City was Rangers’ first paid acquisition in nearly two years. Nikica Jelavić from SK Rapid Wien and Manchester City’s Vladimír Weiss also joined the club during the summer to counter the loss of Kris Boyd to Middlesbrough FC and teenage defender Danny Wilson to Liverpool.
Andy Webster and John Fleck are yet to feature this term after picking up hamstring injuries in pre-season, while Steven Whittaker and Kirk Broadfoot suffered knocks on international duty with Scotland. The latter started against Hamilton only to injure his other ankle shortly before half-time.
United, meanwhile, hasn’t lost an opening day Champions League fixture in 13 seasons. Few expect that record to be broken Tuesday night.
Rangers – 4-5-1 – McGregor; Weir, Whittaker, Papac, Bougherra; Edu, McCulloch, Davis, Lafferty, G Naismith; Miller
Subs from: Foster, Broadfoot, Webster, McMillan, Perry, Cole, Scott, Fleck, Weiss, Bendiksen, Shinnie, Stirling, Wylde, Ness, Hutton, Dick, McCabe, Beattie, Little, Loy, Campbell, Hemmings, K Naismith, Wright.
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (POR)
Assistant referees: Jose Cardinal (POR), João Santos (POR)
Additional assistant referee: Artur Soares Dias (POR)
Additional assistant referee: Carlos Xistra (POR)
Fourth official: Vasco Antonio Moreira Dos Santos (POR)
United – WWDWD
Rangers – WWWW