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United set to unleash Rooney, Van Persie on Cluj


LONDON (AP) -Six weeks into the season, it may finally be time for Manchester United to unleash the mouth-watering strike partnership of Wayne Rooney and offseason signing Robin van Persie for the first time.

With Rooney fit after a month out with a gashed leg, United manager Alex Ferguson has the luxury of partnering his top two strikers for Wednesday's Champions League match at Cluj.

"Probably the strongest part of the club will be in the striker department," said Ferguson, who also has England international Danny Welbeck and Mexico forward Javier Hernandez as options up front. "It (Van Persie's arrival from Arsenal) should give everyone a push."

Not only might the Romanian outsiders have to deal with two of the world's best strikers in tandem, they also have to face the wrath of a team desperate to make amends from a sloppy 3-2 loss to Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday.

That 3-2 defeat showed that while United may have one of the most devastating strike-forces in Europe, its defense is suspect with captain and defensive lynchpin Nemanja Vidic out for two months with a knee injury.

"We have to be positive," United defender Patrice Evra said. "I hope it was just an accident (against Tottenham) and we can get back the winning mentality in the Champions League."

Galatasaray hosts Braga in Group H's other match, two teams who lost their opening matches.

United beat Galatasaray 1-0 at Old Trafford despite the Turkish team nearly springing an upset after going close on a number of occasions and having good penalty appeals turned down.

Braga slumped to a 2-0 loss at home to Cluj, which had a shock win over Roma in the Champions League in 2008, giving the team confidence it can reproduce those exploits against United.

With United far from convincing this season, it could happen.

Losing Vidic for a lengthy spell has hit Ferguson hard - with England defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones also sidelined with injury, the United manager has just two fit central defenders in Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Both of those players have only just returned from injury and Evans was seen limping off the field after the Tottenham game.

And with Ferguson still unsure of his best goalkeeper out of Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea, there is uncertainty throughout the English side's defense.

"The amazing thing about being at United is there's no difference between, say, playing Crawley at home in the FA Cup or Liverpool away in the league," said Lindegaard, insisting United will not underestimate Cluj. "We take the same approach every time and that is to work in the professional manner that has made the club into what it is today.

"We played in Romania last season (beating Otelul Galati) and we hope for a similar result there on Tuesday. We have to go out there and win again."

Midfielders Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were all missing from the 21-man squad that flew to Romania on Monday, while right winger Antonio Valencia still hasn't recovered from an ankle injury.

"The next two Champions League games are big ones for us," said Rooney, who was part of a United squad that failed to reach the knockout stage last season. "We are looking to get maximum points.

"The Champions League is completely different to the Premier League. If you are not at your best, you get punished, which is what happened to us last season. We have to make sure that won't happen again this year."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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