Manchester United take on CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford in the Champions League on Tuesday looking to end a goal-scoring drought that now stretches to 325 minutes.
Since Anthony Martial’s diving header earned United a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture two weeks ago, Louis van Gaal’s side have registered successive 0-0 draws against Manchester City, second-tier Middlesbrough, who beat them on penalties in the League Cup, and Crystal Palace. It is the first time since 2005 that United have gone three games without scoring, but Van Gaal has urged the club’s supporters to show the same patience that they demonstrated during previous lean spells.
“I have seen periods and tendencies in Manchester United like in other clubs. It was not always the big Theatre of Dreams,” he said on Monday. “Now we have a bad period when you don’t score because football is (about) scoring goals. We have to improve that and I hope we shall score against CSKA Moscow.
“But I know it is very difficult because they are very organised and they shall play more defensively than Crystal Palace.”
United’s latest stalemate saw them held by Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, where the visitors mustered just a single shot on target. Their drop in productivity has coincided with van Gaal’s decision to move Martial, the Premier League’s Player of the Month for September, to the left flank and utilise Wayne Rooney as a lone striker.
Rooney’s dismal form has prompted calls for the United captain to be either dropped or withdrawn to a number 10 role and van Gaal’s tweak in the latter stages at Palace, when Martial went up front and Rooney moved out to the left, suggests the Dutchman may be thinking along similar lines.
Whichever attacking configuration he settles on, van Gaal will hope it enables his team to register a first ever home victory against Russian opposition.
United drew 3-3 with CSKA when the sides first met at Old Trafford in November 2009 and their two previous home games against Russian teams ended in draws -- 0-0 against Torpedo Moscow in 1992, 2-2 against Rotor Volgograd in 1995 -- that led to early exits from the Uefa Cup.
In total, United have won only one of their eight matches against Russian teams and with the two sides level on four points in Group B, two points below leaders VfL Wolfsburg and just a point above fourth-place PSV Eindhoven, it is a statistic they will be eager to improve on.
CSKA geared up for the trip to northwest England by beating struggling Ufa 2-0 on Saturday to preserve their unbeaten record in the Russian Premier League, which they lead by nine points. But victory came at the cost of a muscular injury to Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia, scourge of Manchester City in last season’s group phase, who was substituted at half-time and is now a doubt for Tuesday’s game. Playmaker Roman Eremenko and full-back Vasily Berezutsky are also doubtful with groin and thigh injuries respectively.
CSKA’s former United winger Zoran Tosic, who curled in the second goal against Ufa, suggested that his side would approach the trip to Old Trafford with caution. “Of course CSKA want to win every single match that we play, but when you face Man United at Old Trafford, you can’t expect an easy trip,” said the Croatian, who was on United’s books between 2008 and 2010.
“If we have a chance to win we’ll definitely try to capitalise on it, but I believe nobody will be upset in case of a draw.”
Memphis Depay, Antonio Valencia and James Wilson are due to miss out for United through injury, but midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin could feature despite missing training on Monday due to personal reasons.