Manchester return to Moscow with knockout in sight
MOSCOW (AFP) – Manchester United return to the scene of their 2008 final victory over Chelsea looking for a win over CSKA Moscow that will virtually ensure their passage to the knockout stages of this season’s competition.
Despite some mixed displays in the Premier League this season, the English champions have looked assured on the European stage so far, recording wins over Besiktas, in Turkey, and German champions Wolfsburg at Old Trafford.
Another three points at the Luzhniki Stadium — where John Terry’s slip and penalty miss in the decisive shootout effectively gifted United the third European Cup triumph in the club’s history — would put Sir Alex Ferguson’s side firmly in control of group B.
History, however, suggests that will not be a straightforward affair. United have never won in Russia while CSKA, now managed by the former Sevilla, Tottenham and Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos, have won their last six European ties at home.
CSKA were far from impressive in a 1-1 draw at minnows Nalchik in the Russian league at the weekend and will be missing Marc Gonzalez, who suffered a serious ankle injury on international duty with Chile last week, while Brazilian striker Guilherme is a major doubt.
United’s absentees are more significant with Wayne Rooney, who is still struggling to recover from a calf problem, and Ryan Giggs, who has been outstanding this season, both left at home in order to ensure they are fully rested for Sunday’s Premier League showdown with Liverpool at Anfield.
South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung, Scotland captain Darren Fletcher and France left-back have also missed the trip through injury.
But Ferguson has Nemanja Vidic, once a star with CSKA’s great rivals Spartak Moscow, back from injury and could opt to pair the Serbia centreback with Jonny Evans at the expense of .
The United manager admitted last week that Ferdinand’s current lack of form was causing him concern, while he has been unstinting in his praise for the blossoming talent of Northern Ireland’s Evans, who finally feels he is beginning to find his feet in the United first team.
“Last season was a decent one for me but I was playing within myself a bit,” said the 21-year-old.
“Because it was my first real season in the team I just stuck to the defending side of things. It was a conscious decision to play it safe and make sure I wasn’t at fault for any goals, I just generally wanted to concentrate on defending above all else.
“This year I need to try and get on the ball and express myself a bit more.
“I am not saying I will be trying to dribble all the way through the opposition from now on, just that I need to be a bit more outgoing on the pitch and a bit more commanding.”
Despite his current form, Evans expects that he will have to serve some more time on the bench this season and he does not read too much into the lavish praise he has received from Ferguson.
“The manager likes to give the players little boosts sometimes,” Evans said.
“He is going to have to leave me out at times during the season and he can say things that make you feel good while he is leaving you out.
“It is nice that he is saying those things and if he is thinking that way it shows that I am doing something right. That’s good because Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are unbelievable players.”
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