Manchester United continue their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday night when they take on CFR Cluj in Romania. The two sides have never met and this is only the third Champions League group-stage appearance for the Romanian champions. Both teams earned three points from their opening group-stage match but Cluj currently top the group due to their superior goal differential. United have never lost a match in Romania and they won there last season when they defeated Otelul Galati 2-0 in Bucharest.
Form Guide: United currently sit third in the English Premier League table with twelve points from six matches. After winning four successive league matches -- and six successive matches across three different competitions -- United suffered 2-3 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last weekend at home. In their opening Champions League tie, United defeated Turkish champions Galatasaray 1-0 at Old Trafford.
Team News: Central-defenders Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones continue to be unavailable as does winger Ashley Young. Antonio Valencia wasn't included in the traveling squad to Romania so it appears that his ankle knock is still a worry. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Michael Carrick have been left back in Manchester as well -- the first simply due to the 37-year-old being given a rest after playing the full 90 minutes on Saturday and the latter two apparently due to illness. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: There's been some suggestion that Cluj weren't the most convincing title-winners in Romania last season. Their domestic form this season certainly has been questionable as evident by their sixth in the table standing. After 10 league games, Cluj are already nine points shy of leaders Steaua Bucuresti. In their first Champions League group-stage tie, they impressively won 2-0 away to Portuguese side Braga. There was an element of luck though in that result as Braga attempted thirty-eight shots and enjoyed 71% of the possession.
Team News: There are no injury concerns for Cluj.
United: Once again, either David de Gea or Anders Lindegaard are possible in goal. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans are clear first-choice as the central-defenders but it's possible that either Scott Wootton or Michael Keane rotate in. At left-back, Patrice Evra is still first-choice but Alexander Buttner could get this game. At right-back, Rafael seems likely.
Tom Cleverley and Anderson are probable in central-midfield. If manager Sir Alex Ferguson elects to deploy his side in a 4-4-2 diamond/4-3-2-1ish system -- similar to the one used last midweek versus Newcastle United in a Capital One Cup clash -- then Darren Fletcher is possible in a holding-role. Nani is the only available natural winger in the side and he will only have had two days of rest by Tuesday night after featuring for the full 90 minutes versus Spurs. If that's the case, then it's possible any two of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and Shinji Kagawa play in narrow roles in behind a lead striker -- likely to be either Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) and Robin van Persie. Squad rotation could be heavy for this match because of the travel distance and the short rest period after the Spurs' match. In addition, Fergie will certainly have an eye towards the upcoming weekend's clash with Newcastle.
Cluj: With no injury concerns, it's very possible that manager Ioan Andone decides to use the same starting XI that he used at Braga (4-2-3-1 shape): Mario Felgueiras in goal; Ionut Rada and captain Cadu in central-defense with Laszio Sepsi at left-back and Ivo Pinto at right-back; Luis Alberto and Gabriel Muresan as the central-midfielders; Modou Sougou and Camora as the wide attackers with Rafael Bastos in a playmaker's role; and Pantelis Kapetanos up front as the striker.
Jorge Martinez was supposed to be a big summer addition but the versatile attacker has yet to feature for his new club. Bakary Sare and Diogo Valente are possible candidates to start somewhere in the center of the park. Matias Aguirregaray is possible to feature as well at either right-wing or right-back.
* Cluj's counterattacking approach: Judging by what Cluj did versus Braga, and going on what Fergie has said about his tomorrow night opponent, it's pretty clear as what approach the Romanian side will take:
"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."
- Feguson | Source: ManUtd.com
Expect to see Cluj defend with two narrow and and compact banks of four and with Bastos perhaps dropping deep as well in order to further congest the opposition's attacking space. When the ball is won, Bastos is a playmaker and the speed of Sougou and Camora is well utilized to hit the opposition on the break. Bastos is a player that Fergie specifically mentioned today in his press conference as a player from Cluj to praise. If Aguirregaray features at any point, he's another dangerous player that can break at speed.
* What approach will United take?: It's very likely that most are assuming that United will play in their most typical 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 system -- one that is heavily dependent on their wingers creating chances. However, with their only available natural winger logging heavy minutes this season -- including the full 90 minutes versus Spurs at the past weekend -- it's possible that Fergie elects to use a 4-4-2 diamond/4-3-2-1 system. Fletcher, Anderson, and Cleverley are all rested and this midfield could feature again after they did well last weekend as a trio versus Newcastle. Rooney and either Welbeck or Kagawa are likely to be supporting a lead striker in this match. If this happens in a 4-4-2 diamond/4-3-2-1 shape, then United will be heavily dependent on their full-backs marauding forward so that they can provide some width to the attack. Cluj will likely congest the middle so some sort of width will be essential.These forward runs by the full-backs can be protected against the counterattack somewhat by having a holding-midfielder like Fletcher staying deep as cover. If this potential system were to sputter, then Fergie would always have the option of bringing on Nani for a central-midfielder while switching back to a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-2 shape.
KO: 7:45pm BST, 2:45pm EST
Live TV: ITV 1 (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Odds: CFR Cluj 17/4, Draw 11/4, Manchester United 2/3