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Pitch will not be excuse for Red Devils in difficult test.

Byline: Dan Childs

SIR ALEX FERGUSON has played down the significance of the artificial surface at CSKA Moscow's Luzhniki Stadiumas his injuryhit Manchester United side go in search of their third successive Champions League victory in this evening's Group B clash.

Boookmakers rate the Red Devils, who will be without injured trio Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher, warm 6-5 favourites to grab the points but the drift in their odds from initial best-price quotes of 4-5 is an indication that punters are concerned about the conditions.

Ferguson is refusing to use the pitch as an excuse and has insisted that his players should be able to cope.

He said: "We have no issues with the pitch in Moscow. When Luton and QPR had them all those years ago we always played well on them.

"We had a great record at those artificial pitches and that was when the artificial pitches weren't as good."

Quite how the performance of the United team from the 1980s could have any relevance to the outcome of tonight's game is difficult to fathom.

And, even if it did, the 'great record' that Ferguson speaks of relates to one victory, two draws and one defeat from the four topflight artificial pitch matches played under his stewardship.

There is no doubt that the standard of FIFA-approved artificial surfaces has improved considerably since the 'plastic pitch' era at Boundary Park, Deepdale, Kenilworth Road and Loftus Road.

But it remains a strong possibility that teams like CSKA Moscow are benefiting from their choice of playing surface.

CSKA have played 28 European ties since their FieldTurf pitch was installed in 2002 and KEY STAT CSKA Moscow have won 18 of their 28 European home games since installing an artificial pitch they have triumphed in 18 of their 28 matches - a healthy win percentage of 64.

They have won two of their three home matches against English clubs and, during the build- up to last season's Uefa Cup last 32 first leg tie at home to Aston Villa, opposing manager Martin O'Neill made no secret of his opnion that the artificial surface was likely to hand the hosts an unfair advantage - CSKA won the match 2-0 against a severely weakened Villa side.

The Russians won seven of their nine home matches en-route to lifting the Uefa Cup in 2005 and they will be hoping for more European success under new manager Juande Ramos - the man responsible for guiding Seville to Uefa Cup glory in 2006 and 2007.

A 2-1 home victory over Besiktas on matchday two has put CSKA in a decent position to qualify for the last 16, but they will feel it is imperative to follow up with another three points.

Failure would offer an opportunity for Wolfsburg to steal a march in the race for a top-two berth when they host the Turkish outfit in tonight's other Group B clash.

And a United victory would increase the probability that they will have nothing to play for when they travel to Wolfsburg on matchday six.

Ferguson is hoping to wrap up qualification as quickly as possible, although he will also be mindful that he needs to keep some of his players fresh for Saturday's crucial Premier League clash at Liverpool.

DAN CHILDS'S VERDICT Ferguson may take foot off gas MANCHESTER UNITED can usually be relied on to secure decent results in the most testing environments, but even they may struggle to overcome an artificial pitch, key absentees and a cold climate in Moscow today.

The CSKA clash always looked like being the toughest of their group stage games and it might not be a disaster if the English side returned empty-handed.

With home matches against the Russians and Besiktas to come, United already look nailedon certainties to secure a place in the last 16 and Ferguson may bear that in mind when he finalises his team selection.

The Scot will be determined to take his strongest possible team to face Liverpool on Saturday and that may influence who plays today.

United are weakened by the absence of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher and if any more of their big guns are left out, they will struggle to overcome a decent CSKA side.

The CSKA rearguard includes four current Russian internationals and, with 19-year-old attacking prodigy Alan Dzagoev offering a cutting edge in the final third, they look value 11-4 shots to bag the points. Recommendation CSKA Moscow 2pts 11-4 general LAST FOUR MATCHES CSKA Moscow Russia Spartak Nalchik.. (1) 1-1 (1) ..CSKA Moscow Amisulashvili 26 Krasic 2 Shirts 22 (5/17), Bookings 40 (20/20) Russia CSKA Moscow.... (0) 4-0 (0) ..........Kuban K Gonzalez 64, 76 Krasic 73 Oliseh 79 Shirts 69, Bookings 50 (30/20) Champions League CSKA Moscow.... (1) 2-1 (0) ..........Besiktas Dzagoev 7 Dag 90 Krasic 61 Shirts 44 (27/17), Corners 10 (2/8), Bookings 60 (40/20) Russia Zenit ................ (1) 2-0 (0) ..CSKA Moscow Kezman pen 45 Bystrov 87 Shirts 122 , Bookings 100 (40/60) Man UtdPremier League Man Utd............ (2) 2-1 (0) ............Bolton Knight og 5 Taylor 75 Valencia 33 Shirts 57 (25/32), Corners 14 (13/1), Bookings 10 (0/10) Premier League Man Utd............ (0) 2-2 (1) ......Sunderland Berbatov 51 Bent 7 Ferdinand og 90 Jones 58 Shirts 42 (9/33), Corners 15 (14/1), Bookings 75 (20/55) Champions League Man Utd............ (0) 2-1 (0)........Wolfsburg Giggs 59 Dzeko 55 Carrick 78 Shirts 36 (27/9), Corners 9 (4/5), Bookings 20 (10/10) Premier League Stoke ................ (0) 0-2 (0) ..........Man Utd Berbatov 62 O'Shea 77 Shirts 31, Corners 9 (2/7), Bookings 20 (10/10) BOOKINGS Referee/Team Games Yellows Reds Average Make-up Claus Bo Larsen (Den) 7 23 0 32.9 CSKA Moscow 2 5 0 25.0 Man Utd 15 16 1 12.3 Statistics refer to last two Champions League competitions.


United will be waiting on the fitness of Dimitar Berbatov (right) for their trip to Moscow
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 21, 2009
Previous Article:Gorgeous George must be followed when the autumn leaves start falling.

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