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Wednesday 05 December 2012

Champions League: Air Alex Ferguson cool on Nemanja Vidic return

Chelsea interim manager looking for first victory at home to Nordsjaelland in Champions League

While Wayne Rooney, right, is expected to face Cluj and City, Vidic, centre, is not

CFR Cluj are hoping to cause an upset against a changed Manchester United side at Old Trafford in the final group matchday of the UEFA Champions League, but Wayne Rooney will feature as Sir Alex Ferguson looks to build up his forward’s fitness after missing two recent matches through tonsillitis.

Manchester United are guaranteed winners of Group H and  Ferguson is likely to rest several first-team players for the visit of Cluj, with an eye on the Manchester derby in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday, but he believes Rooney needs time on the field to prepare for the crunch match, despite scoring twice in the 4-3 defeat of Reading on Saturday.

"Wayne needs to play a lot of games to get his match-fitness up," Ferguson said. "He's a strongly built lad and when he misses two games it takes him three games to come back. It's the way he's always been.

"He'll play tomorrow night and hopefully that brings him on further because Saturday was his best performance of the season so far."

Ferguson is concerned that United's defending may prove very costly in Sunday's derby. The manager appeared to dash hopes of Nemanja Vidic returning to lend a hand when he ruled the Serb out of the encounter with Cluj.

"If we perform like that on Sunday then God knows what's going to happen to us"
Sir Alex Ferguson

In conceding 32 goals so far this season, including three at Reading on Saturday, Ferguson said he could not remember a time when his side's defence had been so leaky this side of Christmas, although in 2001/02, United conceded 39 goals in their first 23 games, and 41 before Christmas.

"It is a worry," said Ferguson. "If we perform like that on Sunday then God knows what's going to happen to us.

"We've lost 32 goals already - I can't remember us losing so many goals before Christmas. Saturday was like Cartoon Cavalcade and when you see City have [Mario] Balotelli, [Edin] Dzeko - really tall players - it's going to be a big challenge.

"It's a concern. But that's on Sunday. It's five days away but at this moment in time it feels like five months."

As for a quick for Vidic, after knee surgery, Ferguson was sceptical. "He feels he needs another few days' training so he won't be available,” he said. "He's not far away. He's training well now but I think another few days will bring him on better.

"But if he doesn't play tomorrow there's no chance he'll play in the derby game, although I wasn't considering Nemanja for Sunday anyway."

The United manager raised the potential for Shinji Kagawa to return after two months out this weekend.

"Kagawa started running today and may make the bench [against City]," said Ferguson. "The injury has taken longer than we thought but he's much better now."

Group H
Manchester United
v CFR Cluj
Braga v Galatasaray

Benitez: We do not need a miracle

Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez with Fernando Torres

Rafael Benitez takes charge of his first Champions League match as Chelsea’s interim manager knowing that the European champions need a win over Nordsjaelland and have to hope that Juventus lose away to Shakhtar Donetsk if they are to progress to the knockout stages.

But he insists he does not need another "miracle" to rescue Chelsea from becoming the first Champions League holders to exit the competition before Christmas. Chelsea go into Wednesday's final Group E match needing to beat Nordsjaelland while hoping Shakhtar Donetsk produce the same result against Juventus.

Benitez acknowledged Chelsea might need "a bit of luck" on Wednesday night but said: "I don't think it's a miracle. We have to do our job and wait for the other teams."

While not referring to his squad, Benitez suggested that winning the Champions League might affect a side’s performances in Europe this season, admitting it was "normal" for teams to lose some hunger the next season.

"It's like, 'Okay, we have done the most difficult thing,'” he said. "It changes a little bit the perception, changes a little bit the approach for the next competition.

"That is the difficult thing, to manage the hunger of the players and the hunger of the staff. It's part of our job to push them and try and try to keep the competition."

Benitez backtracked when pressed on whether there was a lack of commitment from his players but he did once again admit they were in search of "character" in the absence of the injured John Terry and Frank Lampard, who will miss out again tomorrow.

With Daniel Sturridge also still injured, Fernando Torres will lead the line once more.

Group E
Shakhtar Donetsk v Juventus
Chelsea v Nordsjaelland

Group F
Lille v Valencia
Bayern Munich v BATE Borisov

Group G
Barcelona v Benfica
Celtic v Spartak Moscow

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Key Points

  • Manchester United manager says Nemanja Vidic not set to return from injury against CFR Cluj in the Champions League
  • Wayne Rooney set to start to improve fitness ahead of Manchester derby
  • Chelsa interim manager Rafael Benitez hoping to secure first victory against Nordsjaelland