The first task facing this Manchester United side this week was to come through the tough away trip to Moscow in the UEFA Champions League without defeat – one which was done in the style of true champions. Not only did United not lose, they came away with all three points and a clean sheet meaning that they have taken maximum points from their first three Champions League group games this season. With the benchmark for progression through the group usually set at around ten points, this good early start makes for pleasant reading. When you delve a little deeper to look at their opponents this becomes all the more impressive.
United were placed in a very tough group with two difficult away trips showing plenty of potential for a slip up. Opening in the cauldron of noise that was the Inonu Stadium in Besiktas coupled with a trip to Moscow on the artificial pitch to face CSKA could well have meant dropped points – in fact United had not won against Russian opposition in five previous Champions League encounters. Both of these games were fairly comfortable encounters for this United side, not conceding in either. This has to be applauded. The result in Moscow was the 14th consecutive away Champions League match undefeated for United equaling Ajax’s Champions League record. When it was only a few seasons ago that United were losing away to the likes of FC Copenhagen and Benfica, we can see how far this side has come in terms of maturity – something which the manager has praised this week – and despite the loss of certain key players they just keep coming and coming. This is certainly testament to the desire of the players and of course, the manager.
Sir Alex Ferguson will have gone into Wednesday’s encounter with one eye on this weekend’s trip to Merseyside to face Liverpool. By far the biggest game of the season so far for either side, for different reasons, as always will prove an intriguing one. Liverpool have lost four games on the bounce for the first time since the eighties and are missing key personnel through injury and have others struggling to be fit. Steven Gerrard did not last the first half of their Champions League defeat to Lyon and is rated doubtful for the match whereas Fernando Torres did not play against the French side and is also touch and go to make Sunday’s game. Whether Liverpool can cope without either or both of these players is always up for debate, and come Sunday we may find out whether they can do this against the Champions. One thing which we do know is that Rafa Benitez will be playing his cards very close to his chest on this one so expect there to be some form of twist come Sunday.
United will want to extend or at the least maintain their lead at the top of the table and inflict another defeat on their arch enemies. It must be said that after defeat last weekend, Liverpool’s title ambitions are all but over and with the other top four sides not dropping as many points and Manchester City and Aston Villa going well, a win for United could harm Liverpool’s chances of even making the top four. Even with the potential of being without key personnel it must be said that it is unlikely for any Liverpool side to lose five games on the run, and a reaction from Benitez’s side must be expected. The fans were also starting to get on his back following a substitution in the Lyon game – this is not necessarily good news for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. A wounded Liverpool side could prove a very stern test indeed.
Everyone is aware of what Ferguson set out to do when he arrived at United all those years ago – he could see Liverpool as the dominant force that they were and he wanted to recreate that at United and overthrow the Reds – he is almost there in terms of Championships. This is what makes the rivalry between these sides so great. It is not simply bragging rights over a local enemy, it is that these games can matter in the course of a championship. Manchester City has not won a trophy for over 30 years so it may be a big game come derby day but it never has the added spice of silverware at stake. United and Liverpool fans hate each other – that much is clear being in the stands at either Old Trafford or Anfield for one of these encounters – but there is also mutual respect. Many of the fans may not want to admit this but both sets of supporters know good football, success and the mark of a great club. Come Sunday, all respect will be out the window on the terraces, however, for what is an eagerly anticipated encounter for both sets of supporters.
Manchester United Club Focus
Welcome to Manchester, Michael – July 29
Goals from midfield the order of the day – August 5
Respect the consistency – August 12
Injury plague piles pressure on forwards – August 18
Usual slow starters living up to their reputation but is there cause for concern? – August 22
Enter the Champions – August 25
Anderson and Vidic pledge their allegiance – August 28
Win fails to hide Rooney’s need for a wingman – September 1
Ferguson sticking to his guns – September 4
Fingers pointed towards Old Trafford – September 8
Legal issues and a tough trip to north London – September 11
The two sides of Paul Scholes – September 15
A win in Turkey and a derby day to come – September 18
Fletcher revels in the “best derby of all time” – September 22
Tough trip to Stoke after lacklustre cup performance – September 25
Giggs leads by example – September 29
Giggs hits another milestone – October 2
Wiley bears brunt as Red Devils falter – October 6
Back to the matter at hand – October 16
Stuttering United likely to be without key personnel – October 20
Record equaled before biggest game of the season – October 23