Man Utd are safely through to the Champions League knockout stages, but could have a part to play in deciding who joins them there when they host CFR Cluj at Old Trafford on Wednesday (7.45pm GMT, live on Sky Sports).
United lead Group H on 12 points heading into the final round of matches, with Galatasaray and Cluj joint-second on seven. Sporting Braga prop up the group on three points and are no longer in contention for a place in the last 16.
Manchester United went down to a 1-0 defeat away to Galatasaray in the penultimate round of matches, a result that drew the Turkish side level with Cluj. Because Galatasaray have a superior record in the head-to-head, Cluj need to better their result on the final day to progress.
Galatasaray travel to Braga and will be confident of securing at least a draw against a side with nothing to play for, meaning that Cluj will need to win at Old Trafford if they want to reach the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
How difficult that task is will partially depend on the team Sir Alex Ferguson sends out to face them on Wednesday, with numerous changes expected from the side that triumphed 4-3 over Reading in a pulsating Premier League encounter at the weekend.
United were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage last season, in part because Ferguson underestimated the other teams in the group, rotating far too readily.
He has made no such mistake this year, but with qualification assured is likely to employ a largely second string 11 on Wednesday, as he did in the defeat away to Galatasaray.
United have the Manchester derby against City coming up at the weekend and it is highly unlikely Ferguson will elect to risk any regular first team regulars. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Tom Cleverley are therefore poised to get another chance to impress.
Ferguson has also suggested that this match will see the return of Nemanja Vidic, who has been out since September with a knee injury. The Serbian defender is likely to be eased back into action alongside the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in a defence also featuring the German left-back Alexander Buttner.
Cluj have had no problems finding the back of the net in this season’s Champions League, scoring in every one of their qualifying and group stages matches to date. They scored an average of just under two goals a match in winning in the Romanian league last season and have a similar record this season despite being 15 points shy of leaders Steaua Bucuresti.
Modou Sougou, Pantelis Kapetanos and Rafael Bastos have all scored during the group stage, while their fellow forward Rui Pedro notched a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Braga in the last round of matches. With good attacking options, Cluj will be confident of keeping their scoring run going on Wednesday against an unfamiliar United defence.
Coach Paulo Sergio, formerly of Hearts, elected to rest a number of first team players from action in Cluj’s 1-1 draw away to Gaz Metan Medias on Saturday, with the likes of Mario Felgueiras, Ricardo Cadu, Rui Pedro and Songou all likely to return to the starting 11 at Old Trafford.
Cluj have shown already this season that they are no pushovers away from home, winning twice on the road during the qualifying rounds, and defeating Braga and drawing with Galatasaray during the group stage. They took the lead at home to United before succumbing to two Robin Van Persie strikes, but are determined to achieve a better result in Manchester on Wednesday.
Man Utd v Cluj Betting Tips Verdict
On paper United have nothing to play for but the players selected will be keen to prove their worth to Ferguson ahead of the hectic Christmas period during which it is vital to have numerous options in every position.
Cluj will be anxiously awaiting news from Portugal and to a degree events in the match between Braga and Galatasaray may dictate the approach they elect to take. It will be a tense occasion for the Romanian champions, but we believe they are capable of securing at least a draw.