MAN UNITED 0, CFR 1907 CLUJ 1.
Manchester United’s thoughts were clearly elsewhere – on Sunday’s Manchester derby – as they completed their Champions League group phase with a disappointing home defeat against Cluj.
With qualification to the knockout phase already assured, this was a dead rubber against the Romanian champions as far as the Reds were concerned.
It was a different story for Cluj, however, as they needed to win and rely on Galatasaray losing to Braga to finish runners-up in Group H. Though they triumphed at Old Trafford, Cluj still bowed out of the Champions League after Galatasaray were victors in Portugal.
The fact nothing was at stake for United was reflected in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection as the likes of Nick Powell, Alexander Buttner and Scott Wootton were included in their starting line up. Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling were the only two players who look certain to start on Sunday.
And the game in many ways mirrored a training exercise as it lacked the passion and intensity with nothing riding on the game.
Ferguson, who admitted his team selection was influenced by Sunday’s derby, was far from unhappy saying: “We qualified comfortably and were able to experiment in the last two games.
“The real competition starts in February when we could face Shakhtar Donetsk, AC Milan or Porto.”
Ferguson added that it was a good exercise as squad players were given workouts while he also pointed out the young players will have benefited.
He was especially pleased with the performances of 18-year-old Powell and Phil Jones who was making only his second appearance in nine months.
It was not until late in the opening half that there was a flicker of excitement as United lifted their game in a bid to avoid the wrath of their manager whose hairdryer must have already been blowing.
In a blistering three-minute spell, Javier Hernandez had a shot blocked by keeper Mario Feigueiras who also made an unorthodox stop to keep out Danny Welbeck’s header.
Rooney also brought an acrobatic save from Feigueiras while Smalling headed inches wide.
There was a lukewarm start to the second period which only sparked to life when Cluj snatched a 56th minute lead.
Rui Pedro picked up the ball on the edge of the centre circle and advanced forward before unleashing a thunderbolt from 30-plus yards which arrowed into the top corner of the net.
United never seriously looked like equalising in the final half hour as Cluj were good value for their victory