ManUtd.com journalist Nick Coppack has travelled with United to Russia ahead of the Reds' Champions League fixture on Wednesday...
So here we are, back in Moscow and about to return to the scene of one of United’s greatest triumphs, the Luzhniki Stadium.
I was there on that rain-sodden night (or was it early morning by the time Edwin van der Sar stretched out a strong right palm to save Nicolas Anelka’s penalty and clinch the Champions League trophy?), although on that occasion I was one of some 21,000 United fans (well, that was the official figure) roaring on the Reds from the stands. On Wednesday night I’ll be in the press box, covering the game for ManUtd.com and acting, I’m sure, in an all-together more dignified manner.
For this game, a group-stage fixture against CSKA Moscow, the Reds have travelled without Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Ji-sung Park. But while they’re not in the 21-man squad Sir Alex has brought to Russia, there’s plenty of experience elsewhere. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes were the first to check in at Manchester Airport on Monday, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic (who spent 18 months here with Spartak Moscow) look set to resume their central defensive partnership.
Rooney’s loss is less a crisis and more a mild irritant: after all, I suspect Sir Alex will opt to play just one up front and Dimitar Berbatov – greeted at the airport, by the way, with a chorus of “Hi Dad” remarks from the coaching staff – is in sparkling form. The boss can also turn to Michael Owen, Danny Welbeck or Federico Macheda, all of whom have travelled to Moscow.
It’s true the Reds have played at the Luzhniki before; what they haven’t played on, however, is the plastic pitch (in May 2008 turf was brought into the stadium especially for the Champions League final). Will it make a difference? I doubt it, and I don’t think the manager’s too concerned either. If anything, artificial grass should give a truer roll of the ball, and we won’t see grass cutting up or divots having to be replaced at half-time.
At any rate, the lads will get a look at the pitch on Tuesday evening when Sir Alex puts them through a light training session. I suspect United have also had a few kickabouts on the synthetic pitch down at Carrington over the last week or so in order to familiarise themselves with the surface.