Thanks to our performances in the opening four games of the Champions League, we have been confirmed as top of the group of some time now. That has left us with two meaningless games, with us losing to Galatasaray away a couple of weeks ago and facing Cluj tonight. These games should be a good opportunity to play our youngsters as well as give minutes to those on the fringe of the team.
With nothing riding on our result tonight, it may feel like a fairly pointless occasion, but what will be telling is the line-up Fergie chooses to start with. We are likely to gain some idea of which players the manager will opt to start on derby day based on which players are missing tonight.
Ferguson likes to play our homegrown players in the games against our rivals, so if the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher are missing tonight, you might well see them as part of a midfield three at the weekend. It’s unlikely that Carrick would be dropped for Sunday but with the starting line-up lottery, you just never know.
David de Gea should play against City, particularly after Anders Lindegaard’s horror show at Reading, but he will have been out of action for a month come Sunday. Ferguson might opt to give him 90 minutes against Cluj so he’s back in the swing of things for City.
Another inclusion for tonight who may also play on Sunday is Chris Smalling, who was brought on after just half an hour in place of Rafael da Silva. Rafael has been one of our best performing players last season so it was bad timing for him to lose his cool a week before derby day. Smalling’s height might also be useful, given how poor our marking has been from set pieces.
One player we know won’t be playing is Nemanja Vidic who, after returning from injury faster than first thought, isn’t quite fit enough to feature tonight. This should mean Jonny Evans retains his place in the starting XI for the weekend.
All our Champions League games have been a bit drab though. We sorted out qualification early enough but we’ve hardly set the world alight. It would be quite nice if we could actually see a decent game of football tonight, but I’ll settle for 90 minutes without injury.