We play Otelul Galati tonight at Old Trafford in what can only be considered a must win fixture if we are to put ourselves within a fighting chance of winning our group. We are sitting two points behind group leaders Benfica who are on seven and if we fail to win tonight, then we would be depending on other results in the group plus a victory against Benfica at Old Trafford to finish first in our group. Considering last season we nearly set a Champions League record of not conceding in the whole group stage, this campaign has been a far cry from our European form in years of late. With his 25 year anniversary of becoming Manchester United manager approaching this weekend, SAF will want no mercy to be shown to Otelul as he wants to stamp some authority on an otherwise stop-start campaign.
The reaction in the Premier League against Everton was pivotal for United after the humiliating defeat in the derby. It was a United-esque performance away from home with stalwart defending playing the starring role in the 1-0 victory. Unfortunately, captain Nemanja isn’t available tonight after his straight red in Romania and we will see a return to the starting lineup for Rio Ferdinand. SAF has spoken out about the 33-year old this week and even though he admits Rio has lost a few yards of pace with his age, he feels he can tailor his game to suit his circumstances and still play a major role in United’s push this season. For me, I’m not so sure; Rio’s performance against Liverpool did impress me but I just don’t think he is as mentally strong as he once was, with the injuries all but stopping all of his chances to regain a regular starting place. He will want to prove himself tonight and that can only be a good thing but for me, the curtains are starting to close on Rio’s United career thanks to the meteoric rise of both Jones and Smalling at the club. Rafael could make his first appearance since the Community Shield tonight and I hope so because right back has been a problem position for us so far this season. A player I will be happy to see starting tonight is Darren Fletcher; his goal against City was his first in over a year and he looks to have finally shaken off the virus that marred the past six months for him, hallelujah. Will Darren be able to re-find his 2008 form this season? Possibly, hopefully, because to have him back in the framework for the middle of the park will be a fantastic option to have with Cleverley injured for 2 games and Anderson struggling with form (again).
Tonight, the crowd at Old Trafford will be subdued more by expectance rather than nerves, by tension rather than excitement. The 3-3 draw against FC Basel stunned the United faithful as we threw away a lead with a poor second half display brimming with complacency and a lack of concentration. Tonight, it should and has to be a different display. It is in these sorts of fixtures that Wayne Rooney normally comes to the forefront to lead by example and with Hernandez and Welbeck both fully fit as well, you can’t help but feel that SAF will choose a strong team tonight ahead of the Premier League fixture against Sunderland at the weekend. A draw tonight combined with a Benfica victory would leave us four points behind the Portuguese outfit with only two games remaining and finishing second in the group stage would set us up with a bloody hard round of 16 fixture, something SAF will want to avoid.
For these reasons, I can’t see anything but a victory tonight. Otelul Galati battled on their home turf but coming to the Theatre of Dreams is an entirely different scenario. We need to push our home advantage through tonight and get a comfortable victory to put the pressure on Benfica to not slip up against Basel. What do I think the score will be? Even without Vidic, I think we will keep a clean sheet tonight. De Gea is showing his true colours, Evra had his best 90 minutes in a long time against Everton and Evans is continually improving as a player – all of which bode well for tonight. In terms of our attack, Rooney should spearhead proceedings tonight and he will grab himself at least one goal tonight en-route to United winning the game 3/4-0. You heard it here first.