After they were given an unexpected break in the Barclays Premier League this weekend, Manchester United should be well-rested as they host to Valencia at Old Trafford with the top spot in Group C on the line.
Both clubs have already secured their births for the very lucrative UEFA Champions League Knockout phase in the last round, but the Reds only need to avoid defeat against Los Che to advance as the group’s No. 1 seed.
United enter the match with a healthy three point advantage in the standings over second-placed Valencia, which has been tremendously aided by the Red Devils not conceding a goal in any of their five previous UCL matches.
However, Valencia does hold a significantly better goal difference, so a victory by the Spaniards on Matchday 6 would see them overtake the Reds for the highly-coveted pole position in the Group C.
United’s narrow 1-0 win over Rangers on Matchday 5 was enough to send both them through to the next round, but Valencia’s 6-1 hammering of Group C’s other team, Bursaspor, provided the huge five-goal gap between the two teams in the GD column.
Having their match against Blackpool postponed, has given Sir Alex Ferguson and his team a couple of extra days to prepare for Valencia’s visit, but Els taronja (The Oranges) lost 2-0 against Real Madrid – courtesy of two goals from former United star, Cristiano Ronaldo.
When these two teams matched up before, Valencia was in top spot in the La Liga with 13 points after five matches, but since then, they have only earned 11 points from their last nine league games, which has left them in fifth place.
The reason for Valencia’s dip in their domestic form has been that they have only score 10 goals in those nine matches, but have given up 12.
However, that poor form has not translated in Europe, because Los Che has cruised to three of their five matches – all of them by three or more goals.
Valencia has scored 14 goals – eight more than United – and that total is only surpassed by the North London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, who have scored 15 goals apiece in this year’s group stage.
On Matchday 2, Manchester United escaped the Mestalla with a late 1-0 win over Valencia.
Javier Hernandez came on as a second-half substitution to slot the ball home with, what was supposed to be his weaker, left foot, but the finish showed the composure of the young Mexican, because was virtually unfazed by the pressurized situation.
Even though the game ended with a bang, it really did not live up to its billing, because both teams set out with the intention capitalizing on a mistake made rather than forcing the other team into a mistake.
However, it was Valencia who decided to turn up the pressure in the second-half, and could have been ahead if were not some very good defending by the reinserted center-back pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who kept them off the scoreboard for the only time in their five matches in the UCL this season.
Roberto Soldado is Los Che’s leading goal scorer in the Champions League with five goals to his name so far, but Valencia’s No. 9 should have scored another goal, but he missed a glorious chance in the match against United.
Valencia’s next leading scorers are Aritz Aduriz and Alberto Costa, who have two goals apiece, which goes to show that they have the ability to score through different players.
The goals that the Spaniards are creating are through Joaquín and Juan Mata, who both were thorns down the United wings when they played last.
Sir Alex has said that Michael Owen, who is being linked with move to Aston Villa in the January transfer window, is only a week or so away from returning from his latest injury setback.
It will interesting to see if the United boss has an eye on the Arsenal and Chelsea matches in the next two weeks and plays some of his young fringe players against Valencia.
Manchester United has already advance to the next stage in the UEFA Champions League, but with that said, Sir Alex Ferguson will encourage them to have and entertain the Old Trafford crowd as the attempt to grasp first place in their group.
Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), Doubtful: M. Owen (hamstring)
E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, P. Scholes, M. Carrick, J. S. Park; W. Rooney, D. Berbatov
Manchester United 2 Valencia 0