Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Sir Alex wants turf luck for Manchester United

It might be the scene of one of Manchester United's greatest triumphs, but the grass was greener back then.

The Luzhniki Stadium, turfed for the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea, has been restored to its usual plastic properties for tonight's match and there is optimism in Moscow that Alex Ferguson's side will suffer the same fate Steve McClaren's England did there, precisely two years and four days ago.

England lost 2-1 on the plastic and with the only Englishman who had the ball in the Russian net back home in Cheshire — he answers to the name of Rooney — the Russians believe that there could be further reason for the Muscovites to celebrate.

“Several United players played on this pitch against Russia for England and they know how different it is,” said defender Sergei Ignashevich.

“We are used to it and for us the switch from natural to artificial turf is not that hard. With low temperatures, the ball will be slick and the bounce off the surface will be quicker than normal.”

Ignashevich, part of a team undefeated at home in Juande Ramos' six-week reign, might have had Rio Ferdinand (another of McClaren's men) in mind when he spoke boldly of a perceived weakness in Ferguson's line-up.

“United are a very experienced side, but they have weak points,” said Ignashevich.

“They are less confident and aggressive away from home. We are in a fighting mood because maximum points at home would pretty much guarantee progress from the group, so we put in maximum effort in every home game.”

Ryan Giggs — a player, like Rooney, whose close control would have been useful on the plastic, is also missing, but Ferguson insisted last night that his team would be good enough to keep the ball on the plastic — as the conditions demand.

“It's a true pitch and they an keep the ball down on it and pass it around,” he said.

“The problems start when you begin to lift the ball on this surface, but we have good players also, so that is not a problem for us.”

The home side have been the subject of newspaper reports in Russia that oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, one of the richest men in Russia, who is worth more than £5.5bn and set to become the new owner of the NBA's New Jersey basketball team, might be about to buy CSKA.

The money has certainly made the Russian threat a real one to Ferguson's mind.

“It's a much more affluent league,” he said. “It's similar to the German and French leagues and when you go back to the great teams of Moscow Dynamo, you now have teams like Zenit and Rubin Kazan. It's an amazing change .”

Ferguson cut short his press conference after refusing to discuss his improper conduct charge for criticising referee Alan Wiley.

The Manchester United manager, who has until November 3 to respond to the charge, faces a heavy fine for labelling Wiley unfit to referee in the Premier League following the 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Old Trafford.

When asked about the charge, Ferguson rose to his feet and left the room after saying: “Silly question and it gets no answer.

“I've nothing to say about it. I'm at a press conference for a game tomorrow. I'm here to talk about that. Goodnight.”

Earlier, he rejected any suggestion that he might have half an eye on Sunday's encounter with Liverpool when it came to finalising his team selection.

He also brushed aside reports that CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev might be a future replacement for Edwin van der Sar.





IGOR AKINFEEV v MICHAEL OWEN

CSKA captain and goalkeeper Akinfeev, the current Russia number one, has the task of keeping the United strike pair of Owen and Dimitar Berbatov out. The 23-year-old UEFA Cup winner became the youngest keeper to win a Russian championship six years ago.

In Wayne Rooney's absence, Owen will be looking to prove his sharpness ahead of a possible start at former club Liverpool on Sunday.

MILOS KRASIC v MICHAEL CARRICK

Serbia midfielder Krasic, 24, has reportedly attracted interest from several Premier League clubs and Real Madrid. He is a likely starter for his national side at next year's World Cup.

Carrick, who regained his England place this month, is in top form and a key player in the United midfield.

GUILHERME v RIO FERDINAND

Brazilian forward Guilherme was loaned out by Dynamo Kiev following their recent signing of Andriy Shevchenko. Small in stature but boasts impressive statistics with almost a goal a game since moving to Europe in January.

Ferdinand is looking to get back into form after finding his recent performances the subject of much scrutiny.

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