Sir Alex Ferguson takes a dilapidated squad to Turkey seeking a fifth win in a row and effective qualification for the first knock-out round of the Champions League. Manchester United’s players trained in the Bursa Ataturk Stadium last night ahead of the match in which Ferguson promises the Reds will respect their freshman opponents.
Ferguson left ten players behind in Manchester, with Rio Ferdinand the most high-profile casualty. The England captain insists that his back played no part in the decision to skip a four-hour flight, although fixtures against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City in the coming week seem to take priority.
United will also be without Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans, Anderson and Federico Macheda with a virus, while injuries have robbed the Reds of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves.
Ferguson insisted the lengthy list of absentees is not a sign of over-confidence from his outfit. Bursaspor has lost each of its games in this year’s competition.
“We’re not disrespecting or under‑rating Bursaspor,” Ferguson said.
“Bursaspor are top of their league and you’ve got to give respect to anyone who is top of their league. We understand that facing Turkish sides is very difficult because we’ve experienced that when we’ve played Besiktas and Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in the past; all difficult games.”
Ferdinand’s absence almost certainly means a start for summer signing Chris Smalling, alongside captain Nemanja Vidic in the centre of defence. The former Fulham defender has shone in four starts to date for United. Indeed, the 6’4″ defender has out-performed erstwhile first reserve Evans this season.
“With young players, you always have to give them time but, fortunately for the lad, he has come in and taken to it very quickly,” added Ferguson of the £10 million summer signing.
“He has the physical side. He is very intelligent, a tall lad and quick with the ball, and we want to give him as much experience as we can.”
Although it says something for the quality in the opening stages of the Champions League that Ferguson has regularly chosen to rest key players. Not quite a Carling Cup extension perhaps, but matches against Rangers and Bursaspor at home have seen the Scot make up to 10 changes.
However, Ferguson rejects the assertion that the Champions League has become too predictable in the opening rounds. This charge follows changes by UEFA President Michel Platini to introduce more teams from Europe’s so-called smaller nations.
“It’s a natural thing. You won’t get the same crowd or attention or drama if you see Arsenal against a lower team rather than against Manchester United in the Premier League.” added Ferguson.
“But this is the best tournament for me, a fantastic tournament, and it is better than the World Cup in my opinion.”
“Have you seen the last six World Cups? It’s like going to the dentist.”
“In the Champions League, you get some unbelievable games. The group stage is just something you have to get through before it becomes more exciting.”
United can seal qualification with a win in Bursa and a strong Champions League away record augers well. United has won seven of its last eight Champions League away games, most recently the 1-0 victory at
Valencia. The only blip in that sequence is the last-minute defeat at Bayern Munich in last season’s quarter-final.
Ferguson is likely to keep faith with the attacking duo of Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández that started against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Indeed, with Bursaspor toothless at Old Trafford the Scot may opt to rest Paul Scholes, Nani and Patrice Evra, with Gabriel Obertan joining Park Ji-Sung, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher in midfield.
Norwegian youngster Magnus Eikrem has travelled with the squad and could make the bench. Meanwhile, 20-year-old defender Rafael has been named in Brazil’s squad for their friendly against Argentina in Doha, Qatar on 17 November.
Despite being top of the Turkish Süper Lig Ertuğrul Sağlam’s side has seemed out of its depth in this year’s Champions League. With no points and no goals from their first three Champions League matches, Bursapor hopes to break its duck tonight.
Not that the poor run will dampen the spirits of a boisterous home crowd, with the Yeşil Timsahlar – Green Crocodiles – benefiting from one of the best atmosphere’s in Turkish football despite the compact nature of the 18,587 capacity stadium.
Milan Stepanov and Ali Tandoğan returned on Friday having missed the win over Ankaragücü. Meanwhile, Federico Insúa is also fit following a hamstring injury.
Bursaspor – 4141 – Ivankov; Ali Tandogan, Öztürk, Erdoğan, Verderson; Svensson; Volkan Şen, Ergić, Insua, Ipek; Sercan Yildirim.
Subs from: Omer, Odabaşı, Svensson, Insúa, Batalla, Turgay, Özkan, Aziz, Çimşir, Ozan Has, Kiriţă, Albayrak, Demir, Steinert, Tandoğan, Bahadır, Keçeli, Núñez, Stepanov, Ramazan Sal, Tekin.
Van der Sar, Amos, Kuszczak, Evra, Brown, Vidic, Smalling, Rafael, Fabio, O’Shea, Eikrem, Scholes, Obertan, Bébé, Fletcher, Carrick, Park, Nani, Berbatov, Hernández.
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (GER)
Assistant referees: Jan-Hendrik Salver (GER) & Mike Pickel (GER)
Additional assistant referees: Babak Rafati (GER) & Tobias Welz (GER)
Fourth official:Felix Zwayer (GER)
Bursaspor – LDDLWD
United – DDWWWW