Manchester United secured qualification to the knockout rounds of the Champions League on Wednesday night, maintaining their 100% record in the competition so far. The Reds sealed top spot in Group H thanks to the comeback against Braga, which gives Sir Alex Ferguson the opportunity to rotate his players in the remaining two games in the midst of a busy Premier League schedule.
Following this weekend’s trip to Villa Park, United travel to face Norwich ahead of the away tie with Galatasaray. The visit to Istanbul could have proven a difficult night for Ferguson’s team had they required points from the game, but now will surely see opportunities presented to the club’s fringe players.
More importantly perhaps, the final Group H game against CFR Cluj is sandwiched between a trip to Reading and then what could be classed as Ferguson’s biggest test of the season so far, an away fixture against Manchester City. The European game at Old Trafford will be of little significance, allowing the manager to fully utilise his squad prior to the huge derby game.
City, on the other hand, will go into the clash at the Etihad Stadium on the back of an away game against Borussia Dortmund, potentially with their European hopes on the line should results go their way on the fifth match day. The Premier League champions also face a difficult trip to Stamford Bridge after hosting Real Madrid in Group D, and welcome Everton to the Etihad Stadium in the league before travelling to Dortmund.
United’s run-up to the Christmas period looks more favourable, coming at a time when confidence at Old Trafford is high. There are signs of the flowing football coming together as the forward line adjusts to the presence of both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. The Dutchman has been in masterful form, showcasing his class again in coming off the bench to spark United’s fightback in Portugal on Wednesday, whilst Rooney received the man of the match award for his performance.
There is also good news for the Reds’ backline, as Chris Smalling completed his comeback from injury with 90 minutes against Braga. Additionally, Phil Jones is nearing a return, with Ferguson telling his pre-match press conference on Tuesday that the 20-year-old will resume full training on the football side next Monday. The addition of the two young England internationals to United’s squad provides the manager with a huge boost in his bid to tighten up a defence that has shipped goals too easily so far this season.
Following next week’s international fixtures there will be no interruptions for United until mid-December, with a month of biweekly games providing the Old Trafford club with the chance to build on their strong start to the season before the busy Christmas period. It ought to be around this time that captain Nemanja Vidic makes his own return from injury, adding further strength to Ferguson’s defence.
The early Champions League qualification is a welcome bonus for the manager, and will enable United to make the most out of their squad in the attempt to reclaim the Premier League crown.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Aston