The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson spent the majority of his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s final Champions League group stage match talking about his side’s forthcoming derby against Manchester City shows exactly how much he is thinking about the encounter with CFR Cluj at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Pitched somewhere between what he was having for tea that night and when he is getting his hair cut, the visit of Cluj is such an irrelevance to Ferguson in derby week that his main focus was his team’s progress this season and how the match with the champions may play out.
His attitude was understandable. Ferguson’s team are not only already qualified, they have won the group by taking 12 points from five games and are well within their rights to treat this game as nothing more than an inconvenience, even if there is still a lot riding on it as far as the Romanians are concerned: level on points with Galatasaray, Cluj will qualify for the last 16 if they better the Turkish champions’ result in Braga.
But that is of no worry to the Scot, who has already said, Wayne Rooney apart, he will make sweeping changes to the team that won 4-3 at Reading on Saturday as he keeps both eyes on the clash that could define the course of the Premier League title race.
As such, he spent the time before the match giving an honest and frank assessment of United’s season to date, explicitly stating that his side’s attacking talents have got his defence out of jail far too often and that a record of 32 goals conceded in all competitions by this stage of the season is unacceptable.
Of course, he couldn’t help a few pre-derby mind games and his suggestion that Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli would cause United problems was a blatant attempt to make Roberto Mancini think he’d be more worried about that pair than Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Obviously, this is all completely irrelevant to the Cluj match, but what else is there to say? The fact that these topics were on Ferguson’s agenda shows Cluj doesn’t matter, as does his admission that ten changes will be made to his team, handing Cluj a real advantage in their bid to make the last 16.
But it’s not like we can use this information to our benefit, because the bookies at bwin already have all this covered and reflected in their match odds.
United are 1/2, which is a far, far better price than you would ever get had they needed to win. Similarly, the 16/5 on the draw and the 5/1 on Cluj are much shorter than you’d expect under normal circumstances.
It makes the quote on United almost tempting, but Ferguson could throw a real curveball and play a young and inexperienced team that may struggle against a decent side.
Let’s not forget that Cluj have won seven of the last ten, have taken four points from their two Champions League away games and will have far more incentive to win than United, who showed in their defeat to Galatasaray that when the team is changed and motivation is lacking, defeats can occur.
United have struggled defensively even with their first team out, so when the side is changed around, I think a combination of lack of understanding, experience and cohesion will cost the Red Devils at the back again and it is worth getting on the 11/5 that Cluj score the first goal.
Punters registering with bwin today can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on the Romanians to break the deadlock at Old Trafford would return a cool £64 if successful.
Ferguson’s side have conceded the opening goal on 14 occasions this term so far and with nothing to play for against a side with it all to gain, you have to be taking that 11/5 quote on Cluj make it a 15th.