CSKA Have To Be Considered Favourites Tonight
Well last night's been a truly wretched one for English clubs - and the trend could easily continue today, with United facing a very tricky away tie at CSKA Moscow.
As you're all undoubtedly aware, the game will be played at the scene of our greatest success of the 21st century: the Luzhniki Stadium where Edwin van der Sar's save from Nicolas Anelka handed us the Champions League trophy after a dramatic penalty shootout. This time, however, we won't play on grass but on the Luzhniki's usual artificial surface.
Fergie insisted they're not worried about the plastic pitch at all but it's certainly more familiar for our opponents which could be an advantage for them. I'm not worried about the Russian weather either: it'll be cold but no colder than your average English winter.
No, what makes CSKA favourites is of course United's injury list and decidedly dodgy away form in the Champions League even though we went to great length to rectify that during the last two seasons, with wins at Sporting, Dinamo Kiev, Sporting, Roma, Aalborg, Porto and Arsenal. But we're just not as good away from home as we're at Old Trafford where, remember, United haven't lost a Champions League game since 2005.
The injury list is the bigger problem though: Ryan Giggs has been the player of the season so far, edging Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra - all three are out, as is the very, very good Darren Fletcher. Which makes picking a balanced and effective team very difficult for Fergie.
And of course there's another aspect: the boss said he's not a great believer in the 'can afford not to win' philosohpy but that's precisely the case now. We're top of the group having won our first two games, still have two home games coming up and if we win those we're almost certain to win the group. With a visit to Liverpool looming this game is hardly a priority, demonstrated excellently by the number and quality of players left behind as a precaution.
The players' vowed to concentrate fully on this game but the reality is that the subject of their focus will be Liverpool. Nobody will want to pick up an injury ahead of that game so I expect an aggressive, fighting CSKA team to take the game to us and they could well get the three points.
Predicted starting line-up:
an der Sar - Brown, Ferdinand, Evans, O'Shea - Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Nani - Owen, Berbatov