Manchester United face CSKA Moscow in the Champions League at Old Trafford here on Tuesday with Sir Alex Ferguson warning the hosts they have not qualified for the latter stages just yet.
Ferguson’s side have won all three of their Champions League matches so far, including this corresponding fixture in Russia, and stand on the cusp of reaching the knock-out stages.
They are huge favourites to make that four wins out of four against a CSKA side that is currently lurching from one crisis to another.
After sacking Brazil legend Zico in September, his replacement – the former Tottenham Hotspur manager Juande Ramos – lasted just 46 days in charge before he was also shown the door last week.
As a result, new coach Leonid Slutsky’s first game in charge of the club will be against United – a formidable challenge for anybody, never mind a coach trying to re-unite a dressing room that is said to be hugely divided.
However, Ferguson is by no means complacent about the challenge CSKA are likely to pose to his team, citing the fact that the visitors must win if they wish to keep their own Champions League ambitions alive.
“In a way I think it might be tougher than it was over there,” Ferguson said. “I think that over there they needed to win so we kept our patience and kept the ball and run them into a difficult position and they didn’t quite know how to beat us.
“Now the situation is that they need to win all their games and it’s going to be difficult to qualify so I don’t know whether they’d come to Old Trafford and have a go.
“But it’s more clear-cut for us in that we’ve got to attack them and do it with a purpose as we have to do in home games.
“There’s nothing unusual for us but how they approach it, with the position they’re in and with a new coach, I’m not sure what they’ll do.”
United are likely to have one eye on next weekend because they are playing Chelsea in a Premier League clash that could help dictate the destiny of the title.
And despite Ferguson’s claims the Moscow game is going to be tough, he may well decide to rest stars such as Edwin van der Sar and Ryan Giggs to ensure they are fresh for the encounter with Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
A victory for United would also mean they could afford to give fringe players some valuable Champions League experience in the two final group matches after the Moscow game.
“If we win on Tuesday we’ve won the group, that’s the incentive so we’ll put the accelerator on because of that,” Ferguson added. “If we do that it gives me options about what I do in the next two Champions League games.
“Young players will definitely get their opportunity but first we’ve got to win the game on Tuesday.”
Sunday’s 3-1 defeat by FK Moscow brought an end Ramos’s reign at CSKA and a, perhaps unfair, level of expectation is now resting on Slutsky’s shoulders.
A win at Old Trafford would herald the dream start for the 38-year-old but if he is being realistic, he must have accepted a place in the Europa League is now the best he can produce, despite the hopes of others at the club.
“We need to build a new team, which only a Russian manager can do,” the club’s owner, Evgeny Giner said.
“The contract with him has been signed for three years. Our trust in Slutsky is as big as our enthusiasm about the club’s prospects.”
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