Champions League: United chases top spot

Updated: 28 November 2007 11:23 IST

Sporting Lisbon should not expect an easy ride, even though Manchester United has already advanced to the Champions League knockout phase.


Sporting Lisbon should not expect an easy ride at Old Trafford on Tuesday, even though Manchester United has already advanced to the Champions League knockout phase.

The Portuguese side needs a victory to pressure AS Roma for second spot. A win for Man United would put the Red Devils through as Group F winners.

"The incentives are huge for us," United manager Alex Ferguson said Monday. "If we win the group we can look forward to being seeded Number 1 for next February's knockout stage.

"I think that it is important to maintain the winning thread, and hopefully tomorrow we can do that again."

Man United is coming off a 1-0 loss to Bolton on Saturday, which ended a 10-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League.

United leads the group with 12 points, Roma has 7 and Sporting is third with four points.

Ferguson is seeking another European Cup to add to his 1999 triumph, with this season's campaign also marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash.

Eight United players died in February 1958 on the team's return from a European Cup match.

Sporting also stumbled over the weekend, being held 1-1 by lowly Leixoes and slipping to third place in the Portuguese first division - 10 points behind leader Porto.

"We will play at the Theater of Dreams, but we will play with reality, taking into account our circumstances," Sporting coach Paulo Bento said.

"We will feel less pressure and responsibility because we are not favorites. If I was a player I would take this opportunity to enjoy this game because Sporting haven't played many games like this in recent years," he added.

Brazilian forward Liedson bruised his right thigh but is expected to play. Goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic has recovered from a hip injury, but 19-year-old Rui Patricio will likely keep his place.

"Some teams come to Old Trafford inspired, and some teams come and freeze," Ferguson said. "There's also difference in players' temperament. Some come wanting to express themselves and others find it a daunting stadium."

Sporting's ambitions in the Champions League could be wrecked by two former players - Ronaldo and Nani - with former Sporting coach Carlos Queiroz now Ferguson's assistant.

"For a young boy, Nani has settled in very well and he's showing with every week improvement, so I can't be more delighted than I am with his start at the club," Ferguson said. "I don't normally give the team out, but there will be two Portuguese players playing."

Nani has scored twice in 17 appearances for United since his offseason move, while Ronaldo has become one of the most feared players in England since arriving in 2003.

Ferguson is alert to the threat posed by Sporting's talented youngsters, who will be putting themselves in the shop window at Old Trafford.

"If an English club was interested and a move works for both myself and Sporting, then I'd listen to offers," midfielder Leandro Romagnoli said. "For me, the Premier League is the best championship in the world. I'm dreaming about having a really good game."

The 21-year-old midfielder Miguel Veloso has been linked with a switch to the Red Devils.

"It is a negative influence to talk about his future," Bento said. "Taking into account his age, it is not good for Miguel's welfare."

Ferguson isn't expected to field a heavily weakened team, but John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher, reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak and fringe players Jonny Evans and Danny Simpson could all play.

Earlier this month, Ferguson hailed his current squad to be the strongest in his 21 years at United. Now, he insists that his players must deliver on the pitch to earn that description.

"Potentially, they have the ability, determination and ambition to go on and match the daring deeds of (my) previous teams," said Ferguson, who has won nine Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two League Cups.

"I think I have done my job in providing us with the kind of back-up that will see us survive the hazards of injury, suspensions and loss of form in order to go all the way.

"We need success on all fronts if we are to take this club forward."

United is second in the Premier League, three points behind Arsenal. But striker Wayne Rooney should have recovered from his ankle injury before the match against Fulham on December 3.

Topics : Football
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