Sir Alex: Defence is key
Sir Alex Ferguson wants Old Trafford to remain a fortress in the UEFA Champions League this season – with his recognised centre-backs on sentry duty throughout the campaign.
Speaking on the eve of United’s opening European fixture against Galatasaray, the manager insisted that his defenders need to avoid injuries – and reiterated that “careless” mistakes must not be made – in order for the Reds to improve on last season’s group stage.
“I think the key is to keep the defenders fit,” said Sir Alex at Tuesday’s press conference. “I mean that. We had a rough ride with defenders being injured in the last two or three years. If they remain fit that gives us a better opportunity.
“At the moment with [Chris] Smalling and [Phil] Jones out long-term, I’m down to three centre-backs – [Nemanja] Vidic, [Rio] Ferdinand and [Jonny] Evans. If I could be guaranteed two would be fit for the rest of the season, I’d gladly take that right now. But that’s not been the case over the last few seasons. It’s a key issue for us and we can’t hide it. I just hope we get a bit of luck in that respect.”
If United’s defence can remain resolute, then Sir Alex is confident the Reds can maintain winning margins and not suffer the same lapses which enabled Basel and Benfica to benefit from relatively high-scoring draws at Old Trafford last term.
“Finishing off games has to be a driving force for us,” admitted Sir Alex.
“I think we all agree we were careless in two of the games at home last season. The Basel game was the one where the criticism quite rightly lies. We were 2-0 up and playing well and then got careless in the second half and ended up drawing 3-3. That ended up knocking us out, really. We had to go there [to Basel] and get a result and we ended up chasing our tails. Hopefully our home form, which had been good for many years, will be good again this year.”
Team selection will reflect Sir Alex’s determination to do much better this season. “In some years, the group stage has been straightforward and I’ve played a lot of young players. But the team will be more experienced tomorrow.”
The boss confirmed Shinji Kagawa is ready to play against Galatasaray after a “slight injury” caused him to be rested for the weekend’s win over Wigan Athletic – “he’ll be a very important player for us” – while David De Gea has a “strong possibility” of being recalled in place of Anders Lindegaard, who’s yet to play a Champions League game at Old Trafford.
As for the opposition, Sir Alex said: “We’ve watched a lot of video analysis of them. I think there are several points about them… they have two players we know about in [former Arsenal midfielder] Emmanuel Eboue and [ex-Bolton striker] Johan Elmander who played in English football. They have two good central midfielders in Felipe Melo and Selcuk Inan and a centre-forward to look out for in Umut Bulut. [It’s a bit like ‘bullet’ and] that’s a good name for a centre-forward!
“I know from experience it’s never easy against Turkish teams. It will be a very close game tomorrow.”