Michael Owen took part in Manchester United’s open training session on Monday but will not feature against Valencia on Champions League matchday six at Old Trafford tomorrow night. The 30-year-old striker has been out of action with a hamstring problem since October but will not be risked as United chase top spot in Group C.
United beat Valencia 1-0 in Spain but a win for Unai Emery’s side will see the Spaniards progress top on goal difference. But Sir Alex Ferguson says he will not rotate his resources despite the Reds facing games against Arsenal and Chelsea in successive weeks during the build up to a hectic Christmas and New Year programme.
Ferguson can choose from a virtually full strength squad, with Paul Scholes also training this week although it is unlikely the midfielder will feature. Jonny Evans and Wes Brown missed out on training Monday and may not feature, alongside long-term injury victims Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves.
However, Wayne Rooney is fit and will start alongside Dimitar Berbatov in United’s attack.
United hasn’t played since the heavy defeat at West Ham United in last week’s Carling Cup tie, although most of the first team has not seen action for more than a week.
“The sensible approach is to avoid the bigger hitters like Real Madrid and Barcelona and Bayern Munich, they are the teams that are number one in their groups at the moment,” Ferguson said.
“We can only do that if we finish top of our group and that’s what we want to do.
“We’d have preferred to have played a game on Saturday. The only advantage we’ve got is that no one gets injured.
“They haven’t played for 10 days. I will play my strongest side tomorrow and then we have six days to prepare for the Arsenal game so it’s OK.”
United remains the only side to not concede in this season’s Champions League and completing the group stages without leaking any further goals will represent a new competition record, although veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar acknowledges the results have much to do with the quality of opposition faced to date.
“We may be through now but we want to get to first spot to avoid any of the big teams in the earlier rounds,” said the United ‘keeper.
“So far we have not played against the biggest teams in the Champions League. Maybe that has something to do with it.
“When you start playing a higher standard of opposition it is going to become more difficult.”
Indeed, Valencia has scored nine times in the last two group fixtures but domestically Emery’s side’s form has been erratic since topping La Liga early in the season. Los Che lost at Real Madrid on Saturday with former Red Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice. Ferguson says whatever the opposition United will raise its game on Tuesday night.
“In European games, they realise that maybe concentration has got to be 100 percent,” Ferguson added.
“It’s a different atmosphere and a different challenge. All players like to be involved in the European cup. You know that if you win your group you are into that stage of the tournament where it becomes very interesting.”
Meanwhile, Valencia has injury problems ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. Miguel returned as a substitute on Saturday for his first appearance since picking up a thigh injury. However, goalkeeper César Sánchez has made just two appearances since matchday three while his back-up Miguel Ángel Moyà has a torn thigh. David Navarro, Manuel Fernandes, Mehmet Topal and Jérémy Mathieu all miss the tie.
“We’ve got two objectives: the first was to qualify, the second was to finish top of the group,” said Emery.
“We’ve achieved the first and now we’re going for the second. We want to taste victory at a place like this, which would set our stall out and send out a warning sign to the other clubs.
“There are lots of big clubs left in the competition and a good result here would give us confidence for the challenges ahead.”
Valencia – 433 – Guaita; Bruno, Stankevicius, Maduro, R Costa; Albelda, Rodríguez, A Costa; Joaquín, Soldado, Mata.
Subs from: Saúl, Domínguez, Aduriz, Feghouli, Guaita, Dealbert, Stankevičius, Hernández, Banega, Mathieu, Monteiro, T Costa, Moyà, Navarro, Alba.
United – 4-4-2 – van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Park; Berbatov, Rooney.
Subs from: Kuszczak, Amos, Brown, Fabio, O’Shea, Bébé, Obertan, Scholes, Macheda, Smalling, Evans, Giggs, Hernández, Carrick.
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR)
Assistant referees: Tiago Trigo (POR), Ricardo Santos (POR)
Additional assistant referees: João Ferreira (POR), João Capela (POR)
Fourth official: Paulo Jorge Lourenço Batista (POR)
United – DDWWWL
Valencia – WWDWWL