LONDON • Manchester United playmaker Juan Mata has called on his side to rediscover their scoring boots when they tackle CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford in the Champions League tonight - even as their record against visiting Russian sides is nothing to shout about.
Worse, the Red Devils have been goal-shy of late and have gone 295 minutes without scoring. Anthony Martial's diving header to equalise in the reverse fixture two weeks ago was the club's last goal.
Since then, Louis van Gaal's side have registered successive 0-0 draws against Manchester City, second-tier Middlesbrough, who went on to beat them on penalties in the League Cup, and Crystal Palace.
It is the first time since 2005 that the Red Devils have gone three games without scoring, which United manager van Gaal admits is a "big concern".
Said Mata, who has scored four times this term: "We are forced to win as soon as possible, starting with our next game in the Champions League."
In his personal blog, the Spanish international admitted that United "weren't able to create good chances" and must improve.
"We need to get better in that aspect of the game because I think we have the players to do that. I'm sure that the goals will come soon and, with them, the good results," he said.
United's latest draw saw them held by Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday, where the visitors mustered just one shot on target.
The drop in productivity has coincided with van Gaal's decision to move Martial, the Premier League's Player of the Month for September, to the left flank and utilise Wayne Rooney as a lone striker.
Rooney's dismal form - the Greater Manchester Police had even sent an ill-advised tweet over the weekend in which it jokingly declared the player a missing person - has prompted calls for the United captain to be dropped or withdrawn to a No. 10 role.
Van Gaal's tweak in the latter stages at Palace, when Martial went up front and Rooney moved out to the left, suggests the Dutchman may be thinking along similar lines.
Whichever attacking configuration he settles on, van Gaal will hope it enables his team to register a first-ever home victory against Russian opposition.
United drew 3-3 with CSKA when the sides first met at Old Trafford in November 2009.
Their two previous home games against Russian teams ended in draws - 0-0 against Torpedo Moscow in 1992, 2-2 against Rotor Volgograd in 1995 - that led to early exits from the Uefa Cup.
In total, United have won only one of their eight matches against Russian teams.
With the two sides level on four points in Group B, two points below leaders Wolfsburg and just a point above fourth-place PSV Eindhoven, it is a statistic they will be eager to improve on.
Unfortunately, the three-time European champions may not have the services of midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who opened his account for the club last month in a 3-0 win at Everton.
The Frenchman is a doubt after being absent from yesterday's training at Carrington.
Injured pair Antonio Valencia and James Wilson also sat out training while Phil Jones and Memphis Depay, who missed last weekend's game against Palace, trained separately from the rest of the squad.
CSKA geared up for tonight's tie by beating Ufa 2-0 on Saturday to preserve their unbeaten record in the Russian Premier League, which they lead by nine points.
But victory came at the cost of a muscle injury to striker Seydou Doumbia, who was substituted at half-time and is now a doubt.
CSKA winger Zoran Tosic suggested that his side would be happy with a point at Old Trafford.
"Of course, we want to win every single match that we play, but when you face Man United at Old Trafford, you can't expect an easy trip," said the player who was on United's books from 2008 to 2010.
"In case we have a chance to win, we'll definitely try to capitalise on it but I believe nobody will be upset in case of a draw."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, GUARDIAN
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