There is a happy precedent about Manchester United failing to win either of their first two Champions League group stage games. Only in the season of 1998-99 have they done the same in the modern era and no one needs reminding what that campaign led on to.
But comparisons can be superficial. Draws against Benfica and Basle are a different proposition to those against Barcelona and Bayern Munich which opened United's victorious 1999 campaign. While the 3-3 draw in the Nou Camp that year told United how far they had come since the 4-0 defeat in 1994, the same scoreline against Basle has contributed to the sense that United, with three draws in four, have lost a little of that August momentum.
One of the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's persistent themes is that every modest European side knows how to handle the major ones these days and, with his side third in a delicately balanced group, it is likely that Wayne Rooney will be unleashed on Otelul Galati this evening. Ferguson said he kept Rooney out of Saturday's incendiary Anfield tie because of the devastation of his three-game international ban, though his 21-minute role in midfield told him what he needed to know. "Actually, when he came on he was quite bubbly," Ferguson said.
"He was full of energy and enthusiasm, desperate to get on, which is good because when he was watching the game he probably said, 'Christ I could be out there'. He'll be playing tomorrow. He didn't expect [the ban.] I don't think any of us did. It was a silly action but it wasn't seriously dangerous. It was a slight reaction. But to get a three-match ban ... when he realised it meant missing all the games for England and he might not be involved at all, that resonated in Wayne's mind."
There could be pitfalls here, even for a United who have lost only one of their previous 24 away games in Europe in the group and knockout stages. Though the infrastructure of Otelul's stadium failed Uefa's standards, forcing the club to play here at the National Arena, the Bucharest stadium staff have been working to rectify what has been described locally as "a pitch disaster". Ferguson said he was relaxed about the pitch, having watched a recording of Otelul's 1-0 defeat to Benfica.
The draw against Basle prompted a sharp response from a manager who last night again accused his side of "complacency" in that match. He certainly has Sunday's Manchester derby on his mind, though for once he sounded convincing when he said that this is not a game he will toy with. "We are disappointed with the position we are in. It's not a tournament where you can afford to be complacent and tomorrow night is important for us," he said.
Nemanja Vidic may be restored to central defence for the first time since he left the field at The Hawthorns with a calf injury on 14 August , with Rio Ferdinand left in Manchester to recover from the rigours of a convincing performance at Anfield. "It's difficult to say [if it's a must -win game] because it depends on what happens [elsewhere tonight]," the manager concluded. "We'd like one team to win both games [the other is between Benfica and Basle] so that would take a lot of pressure off us."
Local confidence is not exactly soaring. The Otelul president, Marius Stan ,declared yesterday that "the simple objective from the game is not to be embarrassed", which will not delight his manager. Ferguson seeks substantially greater goals.
Otelul Galati v Manchester United: three key confrontations
Luis Nani v Cornel Rapa: Rapa, 21, is one of the great hopes of Romanian football. He has five senior caps already and faced United's Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in an Under-21s game between England and Romania last year. He faces a sharper test tonight, though, from United's electric winger Nani.
Nemanja Vidic v Marius Pena: The 26-year-old Pena scored Otelul Galati's first ever Champions League goal, against Basle last month. He will need to be ready for a physical buffeting from Vidic, who has seen off many centre-forwards far superior to Pena over the course of his time at the top of the European game.
Wayne Rooney v Sergiu Costin: After a difficult fortnight, how Rooney would love to rediscover his scoring touch tonight, especially with the Manchester derby on Sunday. He will hope to have the physical and positional beating of 32-year-old Costin, a foundation stone of the Otelul Galati side over the last five seasons.Reuse content