Manchester United have shown characteristically good form in the Champions League so far this season and are yet to concede a goal in the competition. But, they are also yet to secure top spot in Group C and Sir Alex Ferguson will be eager for them to finish the job on Tuesday.
Standing in their way is a tough Valencia side. United squeezed past them in the corresponding fixture in Spain earlier this season, thanks to a late goal from Javier Hernandez . Unai Emery’s side were expected to struggle this season following the departure of their star players, David Villa and David Silva. However, Los Che are looking good in both the Champions League and in the Primera Division where they are in third spot, leading the pack chasing perennial top two Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Manchester United will be itching to take to the pitch, having seen their weekend game at Blackpool postponed due to bad weather. Their last outing was a Carling Cup trip to West Ham last week, ending in a resounding 4-0 defeat and even more reason why Ferguson’s side will be eager to play some football. Although the United boss will have one eye on Monday’s top of the table clash against Arsenal, he is likely to field a very strong side to ensure top spot and with it every chance of a kind draw in the knock-out stages.
Valencia meanwhile went down 2-0 to Real Madrid over the weekend, but will not be too down-hearted at becoming one of the many sides to have succumbed to the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed a brace. They hammered Bursaspor 6-1 in their last Champions League fixture and will hope to find their scoring boots again at Old Trafford. Any kind of a victory for Valencia will ensure that they secure top spot, with United having won by only a single goal in the Mestalla and enjoying a better goal difference.
Manchester United – Hoping for a Blackburn, not a West Ham
Although he fielded a largely inexperienced side, Sir Alex Ferguson will have been alarmed by the 4-0 defeat at West Ham last week in the Carling Cup. He will make wholesale changes and has plenty of options with which to make amends for the Upton Park debacle.
All eyes will likely be on the front two of Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney . The Bulgarian is the man of the moment, having hit five goals recently against Blackburn in a 7-1 romp. It will be a sobering thought for Valencia to wonder what might have been had Rooney been on top form too. The England striker has still not found his scoring boots this season and will be anxious to hit the back of the net. Someone might well be on the end of a Rooney flurry of goals soon and Valencia will hope it is not them.
Although general perception is that Ferguson’s team haven’t yet been firing on all cylinders, they are unquestionably a very solid outfit. They are the Premier League’s only unbeaten side this season and much of that is down to the fact that they have been able to call on the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic for a prolonged period.
Ferguson will also be pleased to have the option of Paul Scholes at his disposal again, with the veteran having recovered from a groin injury. Only long-term absentees Owen Hargreaves, Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen are likely to be missing on Tuesday, giving Ferguson a formidable range of options.
Although Mexican youngster Javier Hernandez has started the season in excellent form, the fact that he will likely only earn a place on the bench shows the strength that Ferguson can call upon.
Valencia – A new generation of stars hoping to make their mark
Headlines surrounding Valencia over recent years have centred on their two outstanding players during that period, David Villa and David Silva. Losing Villa to Barcelona was a blow, but many assumed that it was necessary in order to keep Silva. With Silva having been prized away by Manchester City, most pundits predicted doom and gloom for Los Che.
However, Valencia have done anything but feel sorry for themselves and come into Tuesday’s game in particularly good form. Sunday’s defeat to Real Madrid spoilt a five-match unbeaten run. In any case, stand-in goalkeeper Vicente Guaita put the defeat at the Bernabeu down to David Albeda’s sending-off, saying “The dismissal of Albelda forced us to pull back into defence.”
Guaita came into the side due to injuries to first-choice stopper Cesar Sanchez and Miguel Moya, but Cesar is set to return for the trip to Old Trafford. However, both David Navarro and Frenchman Jeremy Mathieu are likely to be absent from the Valencia defence. Meanwhile, David Albeda will be expected to patrol the middle of the park and the battle between him and possibly Paul Scholes or Darren Fletcher will be worth keeping an eye on.
Meanwhile, it is in attack where Unai Emery’s side really shines. They have scored an impressive fourteen goals in the Champions League so far, compared to Manchester United ‘s six. Expect Emery to employ a three-man attack, spearheaded by top scorer Roberto Soldado , whose strength and work-rate will test the United defence. He will be supported by experienced front-man Aritz Aduriz and new star man Juan Mata . The 22-year-old is one of Europe’s most dangerous wide players and his two goals and eight assists so far this season indicate that he will provide problems for Rafael Da Silva.
Although Mata is the current flavour of the month to come off the Valencia production line, the stage is set at Old Trafford for another star to make his name.