Manchester United seek to end their scoring woes and put themselves in the driving seat for a place in the knockout round of the Champions League when they host CSKA Moscow on Tuesday at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal’s team sit level on four points with the Russian side in Group B, two points behind leaders Wolfsburg. Yet they have not scored a single goal since a 1-1 draw in Moscow two weeks ago. The three-match streak is the club’s longest goalless run in close to 11 years.
Those struggles in front of goal have seen United exit the Capital One Cup to Middlesbrough and drop further back in the Premier League title race after draws against Manchester City and Crystal Palace. Despite failing to score in his last four outings, Van Gaal has continued to brush off criticism of Wayne Rooney as the club’s central striker. And ahead of Tuesday’s encounter, he reiterated that he still has “confidence” in England’s record goalscorer.
The former Champions League winner with Ajax has asked for patience from the Manchester United fans as his team seek to turn the team’s attacking fortunes around.
“I think the most important thing is that you create chances and that you finish those chances,” Van Gaal said, reports Uefa.com. “Against Middlesbrough we created more than enough. Against Crystal Palace it was a concern because we didn't create as much, but that was one of the few matches in which we were not the better team.
“We are hopefully making history but it takes time. We are the best defenders in the Premier League; you say we cannot attack and it's not true. It's only a moment in a process. When you don't score it is a bad period because football is scoring goals, because that makes the difference. I hope we will score against CSKA, but I know it will be very difficult as they are very organized.”
Memphis Depay is one of the players who could bring an attacking spark, but, after missing out against Crystal Palace through injury, he remains a doubt for Tuesday. Both the Dutch winger and defender Phil Jones trained separately from the main squad on Monday. Morgan Schneiderlin has also emerged as a fitness concern after sitting out training.
CSKA Moscow have kept back-to-back clean sheets since the home draw with United, to extend their lead atop the Russian Premier League to nine points after just 14 rounds of fixtures. Still, manager Leonid Slutsky, who is combining his role with coaching the Russian national team, has shown no signs of over confidence even against misfiring opposition.
“This team is obviously very good with possession so we will play a counterattacking game,” he said. “When a team has players like Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and so on, they can score at any time and against any opponent so their recent blanks don't provide much comfort.”
Certainly CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev will have no cause for complacency, even if his side go in front at Old Trafford. The veteran Russia international allowed Anthony Martial’s header to creep past him for an equalizer in Moscow two weeks ago, and he was also in goal when the two sides last met in Manchester, as United that time came from two goals behind to snatch a draw in 2009. The scorer of United’s equalizer that day, Antonio Valencia, is again set to be sidelined by injury on Tuesday.
Prediction: It is no coincidence that United’s scoring troubles have really kicked in since Van Gaal moved Rooney up front and shifted his team’s current most dangerous attacking threat, Martial, to the left. With Rooney showing no signs of recovering from his slumber, those positions surely need to change if United are to turn things around. It is likely to be a tight and anxious affair at Old Trafford, and Van Gaal’s side will have to be wary of the pace of CSKA duo Seydou Doumbia and Ahmed Musa, but they may just emerge with a much-needed victory.
Predicted score: Manchester United 1-0 CSKA Moscow
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1