Manchester Untied defender Rio Ferdinand is urging his side to return to the latter stages of the Champions League and put their bitter defeat to Real Madrid last season firmly behind them. After a run of three finals in four years, United exited ignominiously at the group stage two years ago before going out in the round of 16 when Real Madrid capitalized on Nani’s controversial sending off in the second leg at Old Trafford. While Spanish and German sides have become the dominant force in the competition of late, Ferdinand is keen for his side to redress the balance.
"If you don't win the competition you've got catching up to do," he said, according to Manchester United’s official website. "It's that simple. If that happens then you have work to do to catch up. Last year we went out in dubious circumstances; hopefully we can improve this season. Last year we improved on the season before that and hopefully we can improve again.
"The Germans did well last year, the Spanish sides before that. It goes in cycles and hopefully we can start the cycle this season.
David Moyes takes control of a team in the Champions League group stage for the first time this year, with a campaign that begins with the visit of Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday. After he scored in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, it was confirmed that Wayne Rooney will again have to wear a protective guard for his head wound. More troubling news comes from both Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones both failing to train on Monday having missed out at the weekend. Shinji Kagawa is back in contention, however, as he shakes off the effects of the flu.
It promises to be a tough debut in the competition for Moyes. Leverkusen finished third in the Bundesliga last season, but might have been expected to struggle to repeat that success after losing influential forward Andre Schurrle to Chelsea.
But the club, managed by former Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia, brought in former Hamburg man Heung-Min Son as a replacement and the South Korea international has already showed signs of forming a dangerous triumvirate with Sidney Sam and the again prolific Stephan Kiessling. With Son’s agent having claimed that Manchester United were interested in his client over the summer, the player will doubtless be eager to show the Premier League champions what they missed out on.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
M: Carrick, Fellaini
Valencia, Rooney, Giggs
F: Van Persie
Bayer Leverkusen (probable)
D: Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Boenisch
M: Bender, Reinartz, Castro
F: Sam, Kiessling, Son
Prediction: Manchester United may have got back to winning ways on Saturday, but they once more showed a stark lack of creativity both from the center and wide positions. With Rooney approaching some kind of fitness, his link-up play with Van Persie provides encouragement going forward. However, while he is unlikely to start on Tuesday, Kagawa must surely be given a more prominent role. Marouane Fellaini, who made his debut off the bench at the weekend, could come into the lineup and will provide more thrust in midfield.
It will certainly not be an easy start for United, though, against a team that has won four of its first five matches this season. As well as their threat going forward, Germany international Lars Bender holds the midfield together well. In a tough group, it will be vital for United to win their home games and they should just do that here.
Manchester United 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Where to watch: The Champions League Group A match will kick-off from Old Trafford at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.