Manchester United are allowing not a sliver of complacency into their preparations for tonight's Champions League match at Celtic. A win should see them through to the last 16 with two games to spare and that is the principal reason that Sir Alex Ferguson is so keen to "gub" Gordon Strachan's side, which is how Govan's most famous knight so delicately described his ambition for the game.
By deed, Ferguson's team selection leaves room for the smallest of doubts. If, as seems likely, Ben Foster starts the match between the sticks for United, it sends out a message that a side below full strength is fine by him. And if Carlos Tevez also finds his name in the starting XI despite his dip in form, perhaps alongside Wayne Rooney, with Dimitar Berbatov dropping to the bench, Celtic might be forgiven for believing United are over-focusing on the weekend's Premier League match against Arsenal.
"No," countered Ferguson, emphatically denying that he might underestimate hosts who stole a shock 1-0 win at the same venue two years ago. "I can assure you of that. We will not be underestimating Celtic... all I can say about last time is that getting on the bus to go home was not nice."
Remarkably, given that Foster has been on United's books for several years, he has played just one game for them so far, at Derby County last season. His only taste of playing at Old Trafford has been in an England shirt. Ferguson still insisted yesterday, however, that on the basis of "training and his time at Watford [on loan], he's England's No 1. He's young and his time will come."
Ferguson has left his first-choice goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, back in Manchester, saying that tonight was a chance to give one of his other "outstanding goalkeepers" Foster or Tomas Kuszcsak "experience of the atmosphere".
The United manager acknowledged that that atmosphere will involve almost 60,000 baying partisan fans who have only ever seen their side lose to one team at home in five Champions League campaigns: Barcelona.
Ferguson expects Celtic to "compete very strongly", and he knows as well as anyone that that is a euphemism for getting in United's faces with a pressing game from the off. "We have to control not just Celtic but the crowd, it's something you have to deal with."
Strachan knows that barring a string of freakish wins, his team are heading out of Europe with a Uefa Cup place as the only possible consolation, and far from guaranteed. He must also face United with neither of his main – or indeed physically imposing – strikers because Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Georgios Samaras are both injured.
The Celtic manager insists that an evening of "good fun" lies ahead, even though Celtic were comprehensively dismantled when they lost 3-0 at Old Trafford last month.
"I'm looking forward to another exciting evening," Strachan said. "It's another challenge, another dream and, yes, it should be good fun. We have to perform first, have a wee bit of luck, have some decisions going for us, with players playing at their maximum and the result takes care of itself."
He might have added that United would also need to be below par, and that one side or the other must break a habit of this season if Celtic are to prevail. Celtic are the only team anywhere in the group stage this season yet to score a goal in the competition while United, along with Chelsea, are only of only two teams yet to concede.
Celtic (probable 4-1-4-1): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson; Brown; Nakamura, Hartley, Robson, McGeady; McDonald.
Manchester United (probable 4-4-2): Foster; Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani; Rooney, Tevez.
Referee: T Henning (Norway).
Results: Celtic 0 AaB Aalborg 0; Manchester Utd 0 Villarreal 0; AaB Aalborg 0 Manchester Utd 3; Villarreal 1 Celtic 0; Manchester Utd 3 Celtic 0; Villarreal 6 AaB Aalborg 3.
Remaining group stage fixtures: Celtic: Today: Manchester Utd (h); 25 Nov: AaB Aalborg (a); 10 Dec: Villarreal (h). Manchester United: Today: Celtic (a); 25 Nov: Villarreal (a); 10 Dec: AaB Aalborg (h).Reuse content