Whisper it, but Manchester United are not favourites going into the Champions League clash at Celtic Park.
Celtic have a 15-point lead in the SPL, have an imperious home record and the last time they met Manchester United, they ran us ragged and almost won the match.
Since then, Manchester United have improved considerably, but so have Celtic. Celtic may not have an away form worth gloating about but at home, backed by amazing fan support (something Keano kept mentioning when he was playing at Celtic) and a willingness to attack, attack, attack.
It is a testament to Strachan’s talent as manager that Celtic are stronger now than they were under O’Neill. It’s not easy to take an accomplished team and build it up even further, but Strachan’s done that, and Celtic are the more dangerous for it. Kenny Miller, Jan Venegoor of Hessilink and Thomas Gravesen will be Celtic’s most dangerous players, and while you’d think Ferguson will rest a couple of stars for the Chelsea game Celtic need no such breaks thanks to their 15-point lead. For them, this IS the biggest game of the season. Win and you’re through to the second round, something Celtic have never accomplished in the Champions League.
That alone should make Manchester United worried.
Manchester United Notes
Neville is fit for the game but should be rested to ensure that he plays on Sunday. Neville will probably undergo an operation soon to help with his recurring calf injury – any such surgery will put him out for 6 weeks, and as it is, the next 6 weeks are the most important in the Premiership for Manchester United. Ferguson will ‘probably’ try to delay the op till January, and then bring back Bardsley and Evans before he puts the Manchester United captain under the knife.
Heinze should get a game (but he won’t) – Manchester United need him to be fit for the next six weeks and for that he has to play these games. Evra is surprisingly first-choice now, but against Celtic Heinze could come in based on his superior defence. Against Chelsea? Evra, probably.
The only other changes expected are on the flanks. Ronaldo is unlikely to be rested, but Giggs might be, which will put Ronaldo on the left and Fletcher on the right. With the departure of David Jones, Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson are the only fit midfielders available to Manchester United. Sure, O’Shea can do his bit, and Park will be back soon, but the cover’s pretty thin at the moment, regardless of Fletcher’s good recent form.
Rooney and Ronaldo should play, so should Saha. The three, along with Scholes, know that they need to raise their games up a notch this week (even if they’ve been pretty good in the last few games).
Fergie’s said that he’ll make one or two changes, but apart from testing Heinze out and giving Giggs a rest I don’t see him changing much. Neville could get a rest too, but I doubt it.
We’re famous for last minute niggles, so hopefully nothing like that happens.
Manchester United Lineup
Starting 11: van der Sar, Neville/Brown/O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra/Heinze, Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs/Fletcher, Rooney, Saha
Bench: Brown, O’Shea, Fletcher, Smith, Heinze, Kuzsczak, Richardson
A scoring draw. Should be a cracking game though, hope I can catch it on TV.