MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, September 18 – Sir Alex Ferguson has vowed Manchester United will not repeat the mistakes of last season’s Champions League campaign as his side prepare for their opening match in this term’s group stages.
United host Galatasary at Old Trafford on Wednesday with memories still fresh of last season’s group campaign when Ferguson saw his team fail to reach the knock-out stages from a pool containing seemingly modest opponents in Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati.
This year’s group draw has once more apparently been favourable to Ferguson’s side, with United up against Braga, CFR Cluj and this week’s opponents from Turkey.
Ferguson has confessed to having seriously misjudged last season’s competition, in which he experimented with line-ups and rested key players, and the fact that Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa both started Saturday’s 4-0 Premier League win over Wigan on the bench is a clear sign the Scot will be fielding his strongest side against Galatasary.
“If we don’t go through, we will be criticised and pilloried for it and quite rightly,” said Ferguson. “We’ve had our warning and I don’t anticipate going out this time.
“We’ve had opportunities in the competition. We’ve lost two finals to Barcelona and won two in the last decade or so but we want to do better. Certainly, we’ll do better than last year – no question about that.”
While Ferguson has also expressed his desire to wrestle the Premier League title from Manchester City this season, there is no doubt he also retains a burning ambition to lead United to what would be a fourth European crown.
“The European Cup is incredible,” added Ferguson. “There’s an atmosphere in the build-up to a European final and great charisma about it.
“Also, without question, it elevates your status within the game like the Real Madrids and AC Milans. We want to be up there in terms of the number of trophies won in European football.”
However, given the experience of last season – in which eventual Premier League champions City also failed to reach the knock-out stages – Ferguson is wary of complacency creeping into his squad.
“We’ve seen some examples of that over the last few years,” said Ferguson of the danger of an upset in the competition.
“For instance, the Cypriot team (Apoel Nicosia) getting to the quarter-finals and Basel beating us and getting to the next stage against Bayern Munich.
“There are a couple of other examples of the lesser-known teams doing well and Monaco played Porto in the final one time, which was a surprise. But, at the end of the day, you always think one of the big ones is going to win it.
“It doesn’t do the competition any harm, to be honest with you and who would have predicted Chelsea winning it last season?.
“The only thing you can think about is qualifying.”
United seem certain to start van Persie and Kagawa against Galatasary, with veteran defender Patrice Evra, also rested on Saturday, poised to return.
The Turkish side still remember, with pride, the 1993 Champions League campaign in which a 3-3 home draw, followed by a goalless stalemate at Old Trafford, saw them knock United out of the Champions League on away goals.
Fatih Terim, Galatasaray’s current coach, believes his side are capable of repeating that upset.
“I don’t need to tell you how Manchester United are a big club,” he said.
“We respect them but we don’t fear them. We are going to England for a good result.
“Years ago we made history against them. I believe Galatasaray can repeat that success.”