Sir Alex wary of Cluj threat
Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping for improvements at the back as Manchester United take on a Cluj side that’s already notched two away goals in Champions League Group H.
The Romanians produced a surprise on Matchday One by beating Braga 2-0 in Portugal and given they’re back on their home turf, they could present a problem or two for a Reds defence which uncharacteristically conceded two first-half goals on Saturday.
“I hope the first half on Saturday was [an issue of] awareness,” said Sir Alex, referring to Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans playing together for only the second time this season.
“When Jonny and Rio played consistently every week last season [from December when Nemanja Vidic was injured], we got better.”
Fitness wise, the main area of concern for Sir Alex isn’t defence for a change, it’s midfield. The manager’s three most experienced men in that department – Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes – did not travel to Romania for various reasons.
“Carrick didn’t report today, he’s in bed with a virus,” Sir Alex confirmed. “Ryan also felt rough this morning and we sent him home. We left Paul Scholes behind.
“Those three players are missing – two with a virus and Paul Scholes because, although he looked great this morning and played great on Saturday, at 37 years of age I can’t expect him to play three games like that [Tottenham, Cluj, Newcastle].”
Sir Alex revealed that United elected to train at Carrington this morning, instead of Cluj’s stadium this evening, for tactical reasons. He feels the opposition will be tough enough without enabling their staff to study the Reds’ prepatory work.
“We made a decision last season actually. Most of the time when you go abroad and train on their pitch you can’t do anything because everyone is watching. By training at our ground we could do what we wanted in terms of picking the team and anything tactical. It’s much better doing that at our own ground.”
The tactical work followed the homework with Sir Alex admitting United have watched Cluj’s “last two or three games.”
“As part of our preparations we have to assess the opposition and we saw their performance in the last game against Braga,” said Sir Alex. “[Before that] they knocked out Basel, beating them twice. We know from our own experience last season that Basel knocked us out. That gives us every respect for Cluj because it tells you they’re a good team.
“Cluj defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball. The main strength is counter-attack, as they showed against Braga.
“Counter-attacking has become a very important part of European football. Now it’s done by four or five players, not one or two like 20 years ago, and the positive nature of the counter attack has made the Champions League much better.”