Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal insists he is fully focused on the challenge of taking on CSKA Moscow, despite a looming clash with local rivals Manchester City on Sunday. United have traveled to the Russian capital aiming to enhance their prospects of garnering a place in the Champions League knockout stage from a group where all four teams sit level on three points after two matches. And having fallen to defeat in their previous away outing against PSV Eindhoven last month, Van Gaal is keen to get a positive result in Moscow.
“For me, as a manager, the next match is the most important match,” Van Gaal said, according to Manchester United’s official website. “I don't think about Manchester City [on Sunday]. I only think about CSKA Moscow and I have to focus on this match. I have to give also a good example to my players. I demand that also from my players.
“The most important match now is CSKA Moscow. We have already lost one game against PSV Eindhoven away and we want to gain one point at least. That is why it is a very important match for us. I have said before the game against PSV, also an away match, that one point is good. Three points is better but one point is good.”
United followed up their loss in Eindhoven by beating Wolfsburg 2-1 at Old Trafford three weeks ago. And on Saturday they rebounded from a chastening loss to Arsenal in the Premier League by cruising past Everton, 3-0.
Van Gaal made a number of personnel changes for the matchup, with Ander Herrera coming into the lineup and providing a goal and an assist. Meanwhile, Phil Jones made his first start of the season, and former Spartak Moscow player Marcos Rojo made an appearance at left-back. Rather than more rotation, CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky is expecting to come up against a similar lineup on Wednesday.
“United made several changes for their last Premier League game, but I don't think that was anything to do with playing against us,” he said, reports Uefa.com. “I think they will have a similar lineup to the one that faced Everton. United are a top club regardless, and whoever plays for them will be very strong.
“These back-to-back matches are always crucial; we have to respect our opponents and be aware that we are up against a giant side, but we have the right to hope for a positive result.”
The two sides last met during the Champions League group stage in 2009. Antonio Valencia scored the only goal in Moscow and then grabbed a late equalizer to cap a dramatic Manchester United comeback that rescued a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in the return meeting.
CSKA went onto reach the quarterfinals that season -- their best ever performance in the competition. They will have to do it the hard way if they are to reach the latter stages again this campaign, having already come through qualifiers against Sparta Prague and Sporting Lisbon.
After a defeat in Wolfsburg to begin the group stage, Slutsky’s side got on track with a 3-2 win at home to PSV Eindhoven. And their form domestically has been impressive, too. Without a defeat in 12 matches, CSKA sit five points clear at the top of the Russian Premier League, helped by the goals of Ivory Coast striker Seydou Doumbia and Nigerian winger Ahmed Musa.
D: Fernandes, Berezutski, Ignashevitch, Schennikov
M: Tosic, Wermbloom, Eremenko, Musa;
G: De Gea
D: Darmian, Smalling, Jones, Rojo
M: Schneiderlin, Carrick
Mata, Herrera, Martial
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2