Manchester United take on Bayer Leverkusen in their opening Champions League group game, as manager David Moyes will experience his first European night at Old Trafford.
The burden of expectations he inherits is immense, and he must deliver in this particular precinct. They face Bayer Leverkusen, currently sitting third in their domestic table – just behind Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich – after picking up 12 points from their opening five matches, and have ample quality to cause an early upset at the Theatre of Dreams.
While Moyes, and Leverkusen manager and former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, will be battling it out on the sidelines, here are the key battles we can look forward to.
Marouane Fellaini vs Sidney Sam
United’s deadline day signing Fellaini has admitted to facing sudden problems due to the pace of training at United. The 27 million pound man started his first full week training with his teammates ahead of the match.
He could be handed his first start, after coming off the bench in the win against Crystal Palace. This will be his first Champions League group game, and he cannot be intimidated by the electrifying atmosphere Champions League encounters promise.
Sidney Sam has come out as the surprise package of the Bundesliga this season, having scored six goals in six matches for Leverkusen. The German international can be deployed on the right flank, where he could cause Patrice Evra a problem or two.
Fellaini will be employed to play in a defensive central midfield role, and one of his main concerns should be to hinder Sam’s advances into the United box.
Wayne Rooney vs Emir Spahic
After getting his first goal of the season through a fantastic free-kick at the weekend wearing a head band, Rooney and the fans alike seem to have forgotten about a summer in which he looked certain to leave Old Trafford for Chelsea.
He is very likely to partner either Danny Welbeck or Robin van Persie tonight. If Rooney can produce the same kind of on-field play like he did against Crystal Palace, United fans will have likely forgiven him for wanting away from Old Trafford.
Against him would be the 33-year old Bosnia & Herzegovina captain, Emir Spahic, who was signed from Sevilla this summer. With plenty of experience behind him, Spahic has impressed at Leverkusen.
The tussle between these men should be interesting to watch, given Spahic’s commanding presence at the back and Rooney’s daunting figure at the front.
Nemanja Vidic vs Stefan Kiessling
Stefan Kiessling is a brilliant striker capable of spoiling United’s party tonight, with four goals from 5 games in the Bundesliga. The 29-year-old, who was the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season after netting 25 goals, could seriously trouble Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic with his finishing ability and powerful headers.
He is definitely Leverkusen’s most potent goal scorer and United centre-backs, Vidic and Ferdinand, will have to halt his runs into the penalty area.
Phil Jones or Fabio vs Heung-Min Son
South Korea international Heung-Min Son became Leverkusen’s record signing in the summer after completing his 10 million pound transfer from Hamburg.
The 21-year-old reportedly turned down a move to Old Trafford in favour of a move to the BayArena, and can be instrumental in Leverkusen’s plans. If he can get the better of Jones, returning from injury, or Fabio, United’s pursuit for an early win in the competition could be hampered.
Marouane Fellaini vs Lars Bender
This one is subject to Bender starting the game. Arsenal target Bender stayed put at Leverkusen after a lot of rumors, while Fellaini got his dream move. Should both start, they will keep a close check on each other’s play.
Bender has recovered from an injury to travel to Manchester with his team. The 24-year old has become invaluable for his club and a regular for country thanks to his tireless workrate. The 20 million pound rated man should be considered a loss for Leverkusen if he doesn’t start.