For a distinctly callow Manchester United squad Tuesday's appearance at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul is not so much welcome to hell as, in many cases, simply welcome. With eight players in the squad yet to make their Champions League debut, and with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes not travelling, this is a weakened team that could yet border on the experimental, testimony both to the fact that United have already won Group H with two games to spare and also to the looming Premier League churn of the next six weeks.
"We're in a great position, we've qualified, we've got to make sure we play with some pride and we've got to be fair to the other teams," Sir Alex Ferguson said, speaking shortly after United had successfully sidestepped a flare-laden reception at Istanbul airport. "We are making a lot of changes but the younger players have all got experience to handle the stage."
The manager, however, offered a downbeat assessment of the progress made by one of his injured players, Shinji Kagawa, who is unlikely to play before mid-December. "He's not started any outside work and we're looking at another four weeks away, which is disappointing," he said. "Originally we thought three or four weeks – now it looks like seven or eight weeks."
If United have effectively mothballed this competition until February, for Galatasaray Tuesday night offers an opportunity to make a determined play for second spot in an otherwise open group. Hence the ominously unrestrained airport reception on Monday night, though much of the effect was dissipated by United leaving the airport via a private terminal. "It was nothing new," Ferguson said. "We've been here a few times so we're used to the Turkish fanaticism and enthusiasm. It's fantastic. It's no issue for us."
While there has been some hopeful speculation in the Turkish media about exactly what kind of team Ferguson might put out, he can still call on a strong first eleven, with Darren Fletcher set to start in midfield and Javier Hernández likely to play as a lone striker. There may even be a first appearance this season for Phil Jones, now recovered from his knee injury.
"It's a big day for Phil Jones because he's been out all season. He's done enough in training to make sure his fitness is OK," Ferguson said. "He's had concussion, he got a rib injury, they're all different types of injuries. He's probably still got to develop physically, in terms of his body, he's only 20 years of age."
Ferguson also hinted strongly at involvement for Nick Powell, who this time last year was playing at Morecambe with Crewe Alexandra. "Most of them, apart from probably Nick Powell, have the experience but they are used to playing in front of big crowds. Powell, obviously he's played in front of 76,000 at old Trafford, but it's his first game away from home in Europe. He's got the temperament and that is what's important."
If United can approach their first appearance at the Ali Sami Yen in a relaxed frame of mind, it is an experience that still promises to retain some vestiges of hell's past, given that it already has some claim on official status as the loudest sporting stadium in the world, having recorded a 131.76 decibels peak in a derby against Fenerbahce, equivalent to a military jet taking off.
Galatasaray will also field some familiar faces, including Emmanuel Eboué and the on-loan Juventus midfielder Felipe Melo, a man known in these parts as "Pitbull". Against this they have not won at home in European competition since 2009, and never in the Turk Telekom, a huge concrete bowl just off one of Istanbul's main arterial roads.
"Statistics are like mini-skirts, they don't reveal everything," Fatih Terim, the Galatasaray manager, said before the home draw with Cluj. Five matches without a win in Istanbul is one statistic that he will be desperate to shed.