Early Doors

Brace yourselves, Manchester

Early Doors

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The greatest show on earth returns, and Manchester is bracing itself for an invasion not seen since Attila and his pals' 5th century rampage through Italy.

The Champions League group stage kicks off tonight, as Manchester United host Rangers in the now seemingly annual Anglo-Scottish derby, games that are usually fairly uneventful - on and off the pitch.

The picture above is one ED lovingly cherishes and often brings out at weddings, Christmas and other family gatherings.

It is a tear-jerking snapshot of Rangers' 2-0 2008 UEFA Cup final defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester, an image that is almost touching.

In case you don't remember, the loss to Arshavin and co. was followed by scenes of (mostly ticketless) Rangers fans trashing Manchester before getting a shoeing from riot cops.

ED is not sure if the lads photographed were looking for trouble or merely got caught up in the ruckus: they don't look like the toughest of nuts and the desperate clinging to multiple fags hardly exudes a sense of strength and vitality.

Had it been taken in a developing country, the photographer - Darren Staples of Reuters - could well have been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

While Glasgow is a former European Capital of Culture (although bizarrely, given its relative achievements, Manchester has been so far ignored), ED regularly pounds the battle-worn streets of Feltham - whose Friday night scenes are nothing short of Third World - and believes the United Kingdom to be at the brink of descent into shambles.

But the good people of the People's Republic of Mancunia needn't worry, not least because any Rangers fans' beef would be with the Old Bill, not United supporters.

And in a move that sounds as complex as it is crude, Greater Manchester Police are caging Rangers fans at Wigan's DW Stadium before handing them tickets closer to kick-off time - presumably to induce sobriety before minimising contact with humans.

It echoes Rome's attempts to appease Attila, returning miscreant renegades in exchange for guaranteed peace in their empire.

Don't hold out for a lengthy ceasefire though - history shows that Rome's tactic eventually backfired, with Attila and cronies resuming hostilities and ultimately negotiating a fat bribe to hold back, before Attila's ego spiralled out of control and all-out war was declared.

Whatever happens at Old Trafford and the surrounding areas, the return leg in Glasgow could prove interesting...

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Back to football and the reality of tonight's match is that Rangers will, in the parlance of Jose Mourinho, 'park the bus' at Old Trafford while United will look to Wayne Rooney to prove his worth after a tough week.

Rooney was taken out of the firing line for Manchester United's trip to Everton on Saturday, and given how well Dimitar Berbatov fared Sir Alex Ferguson may even consider playing the two of them.

One thing Rangers will not be doing, though, is winding Rooney up over the tabloid nonsense that's been peddled for the past 10 days or so.

"Wayne has shown in the past that anything that it is a side issue for him, he has still gone out and done it on the park," said Weir.

"That is what makes him as good as he is. I don't think missing last Saturday will affect him. He doesn't need outside motivation."

No but, whether or not Weir wants to get Rooney's shirt for his kids (ED is serious - read his interview in today's Herald), the least he can do as a professional is seek to gain a competitive advantage over the oft-combustible England striker?

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You never stop learning, do you? You're sitting 3-1 up at Everton with two minutes to go. It doesn't matter if you're Alex Ferguson or who you are, there's nothing you can do." - Harry Redknapp admits he is at the mercy of his players as they prepare for their Champions League group stage bow at Werder Bremen.

FOREIGN VIEW: "There does not seem to be a logical explanation for this (lack of goals). We definitely did not have a perfect pre-season training. But this needs to change now." - Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller has the mandatory moan about the international schedule after the World Cup... or is he referring to Franck Ribery's legal worries?

COMING UP: After lunch, our Armchair Pundit Alex Chick will focus on Tottenham's Champions League debut, while the aforementioned Champions League group stage gets underway at 7.45pm with every game covered with live text and scoring: as well as United v Rangers and Spurs v Bremen, Barcelona, Schalke and Inter are in action. There is also a full Championship programme, with scores as scorers throughout the night. For fans of cycling it is, alas, a rest day at the Vuelta a Espana: stage 17 is tomorrow.

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