Manchester United resume European duty on Wednesday when they travel to Moscow to face Russian Premier League leaders CSKA Moscow. It's the trip that just about every club in Europe dreads simply because of the mileage to and from the very ends of Eastern Europe. For United, it's most unfortunate that his trip takes place during the week leading up to the Manchester derby.
Indeed, the Red Devils jet into Manchester from Russia on Thursday tea-time, allowing for little recuperation and preparation for Sunday. For Louis van Gaal therefore, keeping a clean bill of health during the week will be a minor success story given the obvious personnel limits of his squad.
CSKA Moscow are a perennial Champions League participant. On paper, this is our most difficult assignment of the six group stage games. They've started their domestic campaign unbeaten in 12 and warmed up for the visit of United with a 3-2 home victory over Ural in the Russian Premier league.
CSKA are blessed with a reasonable mixture of raw energy, sheer grit and finesse. In Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia, they've got the energy up top to trouble most defences. Certainly, Smalling and Jones will know they're in a game on Wednesday. The pair get their raw materials from a familiar face, Zoran Tosic. Remember him? Yeah that one. One for the central axis in midfield to keep a hold of.
United got back to winning ways at the weekend with a comfortable and yet important away win at Everton. The structure of the team appeared to be more balanced since before Luke Shaw suffered his injury. There will be desperate calls for the manager to retain most of the team, especialy defensively and in the middle.
United left themselves open in their other away European tie at PSV Eindhoven. Whereas it afforded the team more goal-scoring chances, it left the team vulnerable on the counter-attack. It was an out-of character tactical flaw by Louis van Gaal who we've come to expect to have his football more suited to the European game.
Keep Morgan in there, eh Louis?
Memphis Depay and Daley Blind were victims of the 'Total Human Being Principle'' over the weekend. Holland's failure to qualify for next summer's European Championships deemed them in less than an ideal mental state to participate on Saturday. Having seen the sync with which Phil Jones and Chris Smalling worked, you wonder whether van Gaal will attempt to fix what is not broken, at least not yet!
It brings back fond memories of United's most memorable time in Moscow whenever the squad travels there. However, unlike the last time we went there, Wednesday's fixture will not be held at the Luznikhi stadium. CSKA now play their home games at the Arena Kimkhi. Not that it's any warmer there!
Group B appears to be the one where the calculators will be in full flow on Match-Day 6. All teams appear to be capable of winning their home matches. It is a scenario that has already accounted for all teams on three points after two matches. It logically follows that the team that will be able to nick an away win or two will win the group.
With CSKA Moscow visiting Old Trafford in the following fixture, winning both games effectively puts United a foot in the knock-out stages.
Optimism has returned after Saturday's win and the task is to go into Sunday's derby on the back of another great result. It is a difficult trip to make, but CSKA are not anywhere the level of opposition United that should bend United's knee in Europe. If United apply themselves at a tactical level that does justice to the quality of their player personnel.
Labels: CHRIS SMALLING, DALEY BLIND, LOUIS VAN GAAL, MEMPHIS DEPAY, PHIL JONES, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE