One of the many privileges of supporting a great club like Manchester United are the grand European nights like this one versus CFR Cluj, right you guys? (*Crickets*......................)
Okay, maybe Nick Powell will play (he might not though) and consume Cluj with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse!
What if I told you Anderson will be turning over a new leaf by revealing his new leafy vegetable ways while leading a yoga session at half-time (assisted by Ryan Giggs of course) for the Old Trafford faithful?
For the sake of no desire for my reputation to (further) dwindle if I continue with lies in order to generate false excitement, I'll stop now. My only wish is to not see Wayne Rooney hobble off the pitch at any point with an injury from a meaningless match.
Remember what happened a season ago when United were expected to cruise to a UEFA Champions League knock-out stage qualification spot from a group they were supposed to be the clear top side? I do too. I also remember our steely Serbian skipper, Nemaja Vidic, crumbling to a heap in Switzerland and him not being the same world-class defender since while our hopes for a necessary result were dashed (pauses.... *wipes away tears*... continues typing).
This match versus the Romanian side has no consequence* for United as they clinched top spot in Group H nearly a month ago and as a result, there's little buzz from our supporters. This match for Cluj, though, is massive because if they are able to better the result Galatasaray earn from their trip to SC Braga, then they will qualify for the knock-out stages for the first time in their club's history. Sir Alex Ferguson will rest many key players ahead of Sunday's derby but he'll still deploy a decent side out of respect for the competition.
* This preview is obviously a bit different than our usual ones. Because this match has little meaning for United, other than the opportunity for some players to get a casual game, there is real no point (from my perspective) in discussing tactics nor much reason to provide an in-depth preview for Cluj (this is because I enjoy being lazy when the opportunity presents itself).
So who will play? Well, Fergie has already revealed that Vidic, Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, and Nani are unavailable due to injury and he's also declared that Rooney, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Alexander Buttner will start (Full Team News Report). I suppose we start from there. Fergie also prefers to project his starting XI's for many matches at a time and this is mainly done for fitness and rotation purposes while there is also room for flexibility due to form. There's the derby with Manchester City on Sunday and that's obviously the club's short-term priority. Therefore, a number of current first-choice players -- the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, and Robin van Persie to name a few -- will be rested ahead of the tie at the Etihad but some others could still feature versus Cluj -- Rooney is one that will. There's no match at the next midweek so all players should get nearly a week of rest after the derby.
David de Gea hasn't featured since the Aston Villa game on November 10 -- due to his wisdom teeth being extracted at first, and perhaps after that, because of Anders Lindegaard's fine form prior to the recent Reading tie** -- but it's very possible that this game is perfect for a return. If the Spaniard does start and if he looks sharp in doing so, he may put himself in contention to start Sunday's derby.
** This is pure speculation, but it's worth considering how much has been made publicly, in the past, of de Gea's attempts to bulk up and become stronger. Some people, especially athletes, often lose weight quickly after having their wisdom teeth extracted. Perhaps his dental surgery sapped him of some of his strength.
In defense, we know that Smalling, Jones, and Buttner will be three of the back four. If Fergie feels that Rafael is fresh enough to start this game and also for the derby on Sunday, especially when you consider that the Brazilian was given a bit of a "rest" at Reading after being substituted off in the first-half, then he's possible at right-back. Jones could slide over to right-back, though, if Rafa is rested while any of Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick, or Scott Wootton could partner Smalling in the center.
In midfield, Tom Cleverley is in need of a game and he seems a good bet to start. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were rested last weekend so they're possible too. Carrick's fitness is always impressive so he could start as well, even though he's likely to start on Sunday (remember, he can get a week's rest after the derby). Three games in one week is a lot to ask from Darren Fletcher right now so if he starts against Cluj, he's likely won't do so versus City. I suspect, though, one of Carrick or Fletcher will start to provide positional stability to the midfield. Fergie could opt for a midfield duo, trio, or diamond, therefore, it's really anybody's guess as to who he will select for tonight's match.
In attack, we know Rooney is starting while Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) and Danny Welbeck seem likely to be involved as well. Chicharito will almost certainly lead the line, if he starts that is, and if he has a partner, either Rooney or Welbeck can play in behind the Mexican international. Rooney and Welbeck are also possible to feature out wide. Giggs or Ashley Young could be deployed on the left-flank but the latter could be rested if Fergie has him in mind for the upcoming clash with City. 18-year-old Powell could excite the 'Threatre of Dreams' masses if he's given a start as a central-attacking-midfielder. It's worth noting, though, Fergie mentioned the youngster's name prior to his start at Galatasaray but not this time. It's also worth mentioning that Powell is rested and did not feature in United's U-21 match on Monday. I have no clue if he'll feature or not. Here's a guess as to who might:
KO: 7:45pm GMT, 2:45pm EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: Sky Sports 4 (U.K.), FOX Soccer Plus (U.S.)
Internet: FoxSoccer2Go.com (subscription required)
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Odds: Manchester United 2/3, Draw 14/5, CFR Cluj 4/1