Wayne Rooney will make his first start since recovering from an ankle injury as Manchester United make the trip north to Glasgow. United will confirm qualification for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League with a point in the Group C fixture at Ibrox, with Rooney likely to play the full 90 against Rangers as he seeks full fitness.
Rooney will start but Sir Alex Ferguson will rotate his resources once again, with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher, nor long-term injured trio Owen Hargreaves, Antonio Valencia or Michael Owen available for the Group C clash. Ferdinand played against Wigan Athletic at the weekend but has a minor groin strain and will not be risked, while captain Vidic is rested.
Ferguson says that now is the time for United to hit top form. Despite remaining undefeated this season, United’s form has been little short of lacklustre.
“We’ve got to look to hit our best form and normally we do in the second half of the season – it can’t come quick enough to be honest,” said Ferguson.
“We’re still very difficult to beat; we dominate most of the games we play.
“We maybe need to get a more consistent team selection as we’ve had players in and out in recent weeks.”
However, Ferguson is unlikely to heed his own advice after the recent insipid display against Wigan at Old Trafford and will field a much changed side.
The Scot could recall Dimitar Berbatov to the squad after the Bulgarian dropped out of United’s matchday 18 altogether at the weekend. The £30 million striker’s poor form in recent weeks was such that Ferguson deployed Federico Macheda and Gabriel Obertan up front against Wigan, with Berbatov sat in the stands.
The Scot must also decided whether to start Javier Hernández after the Mexican scored a sixth goal of the season against the Latics on Saturday. Ryan Giggs, an unused substitute against Wigan, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling John O’Shea and Bébé could also come into the side.
Ryan Giggs may start after recovering from a hamstring injury, while Anderson is in the squad for the first time in almost a month.
Whomever his strike partner, Rooney will again be the focus at Ibrox after the striker’s 30 minute cameo against Wigan. The 25-year-old was clearly rusty, fluffing one good chance from six yards and seeing a header saved by Ali Al Habsi.
Now physically fit after a week’s training at Nike’s HQ in Oregon and 10 days at Carrington, Rooney is expected to play the full 90 minutes at Ibrox on Wednesday night.
Despite questioning United’s “ambition” – and by default the current squad’s ability – left-back Patrice Evra says that the players have not discussed Rooney’s protracted contract negotiations and the issue is now at an end.
“It’s good to see him back, good for him and good for us,” said Evra.
“When someone says they don’t trust in the future of Manchester United it caused us pain – but it is behind us now.
“We are all going to help him get back to his best and scoring goals for United again. It is another big player and the sort of player we will need if we are going to win the league again.”
The team certainly needs a fresh injection of creativity after a string of under-par displays, especially on the road, this season.
United can progress with a draw and despite the Reds’ poor domestic form away from home this season, Ferguson’s side has won eight of the last nine away from Old Trafford in the Champions League.
Meanwhile Rangers’ hopes of qualifying for the latter stages depend on results elsewhere. If Valencia defeat Bursaspor at home in the other Matchday 5 fixture, Rangers have to beat United to stay in the competition.
Former United assistant manager Walter Smith will be without Madjid Bougherra, ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring strain picked up against Aberdeen recently, while Maurice Edu and Saša Papac also miss out. However, Kyle Lafferty is now fit and could start.
United won the corresponding fixture 1-0 at Ibrox in October 2003, the only time the two sides have previously met in Glasgow. A similar result will do United nicely on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, having failed to score from open play this season, Rooney will hope for something, anything, at Ibrox.
Rangers – 4-5-1 – McGregor; Weir, Broadfoot, Foster, Whittaker; McCulloch, Davis, Fleck, Lafferty, Naismith; Miller.
Subs from: Foster, McMillan, Perry, Cole, Scott, Weiss, Bendiksen, Shinnie, Stirling, Wylde, Ness, Hutton, Dick, McCabe, Beattie, Little, Loy, Campbell, Hemmings, K Naismith, Wright.
United – 4-4-2 – van der Sar; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Park, Giggs; Hernández, Rooney.
Subs from: Amos, Brown, Fabio, O’Shea, Anderson, Bébé, Obertan, Scholes, Berbatov, Macheda,
Referee: Massimo Busacca (SUI)
Assistant referees: Matthias Arnet (SUI), Manuel Navarro (SUI)
Additional assistant referees: Sascha Kever (SUI)
Fourth official: Claudio Circhetta (SUI), Stephan Studer (SUI)
United – WWWDDW
Rangers – DLWLWW