Manchester United can't afford to lose at home

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> One victory in four games puts Manchester United, which has made the second phase 11 straight times, in danger of missing out on the last 16.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:49 IST
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Roy Keane has gone and Michael Ballack is reportedly lined up as his replacement. Ballack might not be interested in Manchester United if the team fails to reach the second round of the European Champions League, however, and a loss to visiting Villarreal on Tuesday will put the Red Devils on the brink of elimination. One victory in four games puts United, which has made the second phase 11 straight times, in danger of missing out on the last 16. "It has been a difficult week but it is in the nature of our club that we have to come through them," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "This game on Tuesday is absolutely vital, we've got to win this game to qualify and it is truly, really important." With FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lyon and Arsenal already through and Juventus, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Liverpool, Chelsea and Inter Milan almost there, United could get left behind. Although the Red Devils won eight Premier League titles in 11 years under Ferguson, the veteran manager is frustrated that he has led the team to only one Champions League triumph - in 1999. His team received some help on Sunday when Argentina playmaker Juan Ramon Riquelme was ruled out of Villarreal's lineup because of a thigh muscle strain. Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, who left United last season, will miss out on a return to Old Trafford because of a torn thigh muscle. Villareal eyes victory The Spanish club leads the Group D standings with six points and will qualify for the last 16 with a victory on Tuesday. "I had always dreamed of a game like this," Villarreal president Fernando Roig said Sunday. "I thought about it four years ago when I went to see a Manchester-Valencia game and now it's a reality. "Our aim is to win there and ensure our qualification. It would be really great but we know it will be difficult. The group will probably be decided in the last round when we play Lille." Last-place Benfica has four points and can still make it. The Portuguese champions visit second-place Lille, which is level on five points with Manchester United. After this week's games there is only one round left and the top two in each of the eight groups qualify for the second round. The third-place finisher has the consolation of dropping into the UEFA Cup, but it will be the end of the European road for the team that finishes last. All eyes on Barcelona Already having guaranteed a place in the second round with 10 points from four games, Barcelona hopes to follow up its impressive 3-0 Spanish league victory at Real Madrid on Saturday with three more points against visiting Werder Bremen. Its three group rivals are tied on four points with Panathinaikos hosting Udinese. Juventus and Bayern Munich are even at the top of Group A and both will clinch spots in the second round with victories Tuesday. Juve only needs a draw with third-place FC Brugge while Rapid Vienna, which goes to Munich, is already eliminated. Arsenal, which has never won European soccer's biggest title, is already through with 12 points and visits FC Thun on Tuesday. Ajax, which has won the title four times but is sixth in the Dutch league, will qualify with a victory against visiting Sparta Prague. French champion and league leader Lyon has already qualified from Group F along with Real Madrid, and the two teams meet Wednesday. That means a Rosenborg victory over Olympiakos will only guarantee a place in the UEFA Cup. Liverpool leads Defending Champions League champion Liverpool has a three-point lead over Premier League leader Chelsea, and the two don't meet again until Dec. 6. Before that, Liverpool hosts Real Betis and a draw will guarantee a second-round spot while Chelsea can also get there by winning at Anderlecht if Betis loses. Inter Milan needs a draw with second-place Artmedia Bratislava on Wednesday, but any of its rivals can still make it. Last-place FC Porto hosts Scottish champion Rangers, which lost to Glasgow rival Celtic 3-0 Saturday. Like Manchester United, six-time champion AC Milan is struggling to make it to the last 16. Milan has failed to win any of its last three Group E games and badly needs a victory at Fenerbahce on Wednesday. Its confidence has been hit by a 3-1 loss at Fiorentina on Sunday. Group leader PSV Eindhoven, which was a semifinalist last season, has a two-point lead and visits Schalke without United States striker DaMarcus Beasley, who has a slight hamstring injury. (AP)

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