BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - OCTOBER 18: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United battes with Ionut Neagu of FC Otelul Galati during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Otelul Galati and Manchester United at the National Stadium on October 18, 2011 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Wednesday will be a European night at Old Trafford when Manchester United host Romanian champions Otelul Galati in a Group C UEFA Champions League clash. The two sides met a fortnight ago in Bucharest where Wayne Rooney converted twice from the penalty spot to earn the Reds three points. United currently sit 2nd in the Group C table -- with five points after three matches -- and manager Sir Alex Ferguson will surely see three points from this match as crucial to his side if they are eventually to finish atop the group. Portuguese side Benfica currently are the group leaders with seven points and they host FC Basel on Wednesday. Basel may potentially be reeling after losing manager Thorsten Fink to German side Hamburg and United may need a victory versus Galati to remain within two points of the leaders. United host Benfica on November 14.
Since their meeting with Galati, United suffered a devastating 1-6 defeat in the Manchester derby. A 3-0 away victory over Aldershot Town in the Carling Cup and a 1-0 away victory over Everton FC in league have helped United begin their recovery process. The Reds have recently struggled to find the dominance of their early season form but they have done well to grind out results in the mean time. They currently sit 2nd in the English Premier League table behind Manchester City.
Injuries have been a nuisance for United during the first few months of this season -- particularly in defense. This past week saw the club receive notice that defender Chris Smalling will be out one month with a slight foot fracture. However, Rafael has returned to training and Fergie indicated that he is seeking Reserves match action for the Brazilian right-back. Winger Ashley Young is expected to miss a few weeks with a lingering toe injury. In addition, midfielder Ryan Giggs is unavailable as well due to a hamstring injury. It is suspected that Federico Macheda is out with an arm or elbow injury. For this match, United will also be without captain Nemanja Vidic after he was sent-off in Bucharest for a rash challenge.
The Otelarii have yet to earn a single point in Group C through three matches despite being competitive in each one. Domestically, their form has dropped from their title-run of last season as they currently sit 8th in the table in Romania. Since their clash with United in Bucharest, Galati have shown hints at improved form with two consecutive league victories. They do appear to have a relative clean bill of health. However, the Romanian side will be without defender Milan Perendija after he was sent off in the previous encounter versus United.
Fergie hinted on Monday that he would use a similar lineup to the one used at Bucharest. That could mean No 1 David De Gea being rested again and an opportunity for backup Anders Lindegaard to get a start. Patrice Evra is likely at left-back but Fabio is possible if the former is rested. The latter is also a candidate to start at right-back, as is Phil Jones. In central defense, Rio Ferdinand is probable and he will be partnered by either Jones or Jonny Evans. In central midfield. Anderson and Michael Carrick may rotate in after Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley started over the past weekend at Goodison Park. Out wide, Nani and Antonio Valencia are strong candidates to start as is Ji-Sung Park. Up front, Rooney is likely to start and rest is probably not an issue to be considered for him with the upcoming international break. Wazza is not expected to be selected for England's upcoming friendlies after being shown straight red in their recent Euro 2012 qualifier versus Montenegro. The other selection choice likely comes down to either Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) or Dimitar Berbatov.
Galati manager Dorinel Munteanu is expected to also select a similar side to the one in Bucharest. Goalkeeper Branko Grahovac is the No 1 and captain Sergiu Costin likely starts at center-back. With Perendija suspended, either Zoran Ljubinkovic or Cristian Sarghi are expected to deputise alongside Costin. Cornel Rapa is expected at right-back while Adrian Salageanu is anticipated at left-back. In Galati's 4-2-3-1, Ioan Filip and Gabriel Giurgui typically operate as the 'double pivots.' John Ibeh and Ionut Neagu are candidates to start in a more advanced central role. Out wide in attack, Liviu Antal is expected on the left while Sorin Frunza will likely be on the right. Bratislav Punosevac and Marius Pena are the candidates for the lone striker role.
* Breaking down Otelul Galati's bunkered defense: In the battle at Bucharest, the Reds struggled to break down a bunkered Galati side. The breakthrough for United did not come until the 64th minute when Rooney cooly converted from the penalty spot. Galati did very well to keep a disciplined shape in defense. United dominated possession but they mostly failed to breakdown a compact Galati side.
The back four were well positioned and they were shielded by the deep-lying Filip and Giurgiu. The former was particularly impressive with his 8 interceptions. Tactically, Filip was slightly right of center and he provided supportive cover for Rapa when Nani attempted to cut in from the left flank and onto his stronger right foot. In addition, Filip and Giurgiu stayed compact to their back four and this made it difficult for Rooney to find space between the lines. Munteanu seemingly got his tactics right as he did well to minimize the threat of United's two most creative attackers.
Antal also did very well to track back and provide support on Nani. Perhaps Nani starts again on the left flank at Old Trafford but if Park starts opposite of him, Fergie may have the flexibility of switching his wingers. Nani is a terror on both flanks but he is arguably much stronger on the right flank where he more accurate with his crosses -- yet he is still able to cut in onto his left boot for dangerous strikes on goal. If Valencia starts, his limited ability to only play on the right flank does not allow Fergie the flexibility to switch his wingers during the match without a substitution.
Galati is likely -- and probably would be smart -- to use similar tactics on Wednesday. How might United adjust?
* Full-back track back: United will undoubtedly spend the majority of the match on Galati's half of the pitch. This will invite their central-midfielders and full-backs to get forward in order to provide support in their build-up. However, United have been vulnerable to this very situation this season when they lose possession. United's full-backs -- particularly Evra and Fabio -- have been prone to getting caught out too high and opponents have hit them in the vulnerable space behind the full-backs on counter-attacks. Galati was most threatening in this area in the reverse fixture with Antal and Frunza. Whoever United's full-backs are for the evening, they will have be tactically aware on when to make their marauding runs forward. If United do not deploy a true holding midfielder -- which they typically do not when they play 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, then the full-backs will not have the cover of a deep-lying midfielder.
* Dictate tempo in the center of the park: It can reasonably be expected that United will control about 60%-75% of the possession in this match. However, possession does not necessarily translate to genuine goalscoring chances. United learned this lesson in Bucharest. It will be important for Reds' central-midfielders to dictate tempo in this match. If United come out playing too direct, they will need to stamp their authority on the match and slow things down with calm possession. If United play too slow and fail dent to a compartmentalized Galati defense, then United's central-midfielders may need to pick up the tempo of the match by swinging the ball around quicker or by aggressively playing long diagonal balls to the flanks for the wingers to run onto. If United struggle to breakdown Gatati, it may require a keen reading of the game's tempo in order to provide a needed change.
Odds: Manchester United 1/10, Draw 8/1, Otelul Galati 25/1
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Otelul Galati