The reigning Champions League title holders will welcome Porto to Old Trafford on Tuesday evening in what should be an intense encounter...
No Mour Exits
Federico Macheda’s glorious debut goal heralds a bright future, but Manchester United take to the pitch on Tuesday night determined to settle a score from the past.
The memories of the last minute equaliser that sent the Red Devils tumbling out of the Champions League in 2004 still burns brightly in the minds of everyone associated with the side.
As Jose Mourinho sped down the Old Trafford touchline in tumultuous celebration, so went with him the dreams of European success for the Reds.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has stressed in the build up to the meeting with Porto that such an event cannot happen again.
Firebrand Scouser Wayne Rooney wasn’t at the club to witness these scenes, but his re-introduction from suspension alongside Paul Scholes boosts a United camp that has shown signs of flagging as it reaches the business end of the season.
After Sunday’s error strewn blockbuster 3-2 win against Aston Villa, the Scot will also be happy to welcome back Nemanja Vidic for the visit of the Portuguese.
The presence of the granite Serb was sorely missed as Jonny Evans, Gary Neville and John O’Shea all failed to deal with the size and pace of the Midlanders attack.
A repeat of such calamitous defending could have dire consequences for United’s hopes of progressing in the competition due to the importance of away goals.
Concede two again, and the last minute interjection of an Italian starlet could have little impact on the destination of the Champions League trophy this year.
No Hopers? Not A Chance
When the Champions League draw was announced, it was widely described as a bye for Manchester United. Porto are determined to prove this wrong.
The Dragoes pedigree certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. They finished ahead of Arsenal in the group stages of the continent’s premier club competition and sit comfortably at the summit of the Portuguese top flight.
This position was fortified at the weekend after a 3-1 victory in the derby match with Guimares.
Os Tripeiros’ strength of character was on show as they fired back for the win after they fell behind to an early goal from Vitoria.
This came without suspended centre forward Lisandro Lopez. The Argentine international has been in explosive form this term, lying in second place in the race for the top scorers’ award in the Champions League.
Lopez isn’t the only player capable of applying pressure to the creaking back line of their glamorous hosts.
New boy Hulk has been a real handful for any defenders standing in his way, whilst the goal threat from midfield in the form of Lucho Gonzalez should worry the Mancunians faithful.
Head coach Jesualdo Ferreira will also be able to call on his charges impressive dispatching of Atletico Madrid in the last round. The foundations of this were secured in a dominant, goal grabbing performance in Spain.
If the Dragoes front line strikes again, then the continent will be forced to acknowledge the very real threat posed by the men from Oporto.
5th April vs. Aston Villa (H) WON 3-2 (PREM)
21st March vs. Fulham (A) LOST 2-0 (PREM)
14th March vs. Liverpool (H) LOST 4-1 (PREM)
11th March vs. Internazionale (H) WON 2-0 (CHAMP LG)
7th March vs. Fulham (A) WON 4-0 (FA CUP)
4th April vs. Guimares (A) WON 3-1 (LIGA)
15th March vs. Naval (H) WON 2-0 (LIGA)
11th March vs. Atletico Madrid (H) DREW 0-0 (CHAMP LG)
7th March vs. Leixoes (A) WON 4-1 (LIGA)
28th February vs. Sporting Lisbon (A) DREW 0-0 (LIGA)
Sir Alex Ferguson will be grateful to call on the returning trio of Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes after their domestic suspensions kept them out of the weekend action.
Rio Ferdinand (groin), Anderson (thigh) and Dimitar Berbatov (foot) are still out, whilst long term absentees Wes Brown (foot), Rafael (ankle) and Owen Hargreaves (knee) remain on the sidelines.
Last starting XI (vs. Aston Villa): Van der Sar, Neville, O'Shea, Evans, Evra, Nani (Macheda 61), Carrick, Fletcher, Ronaldo, Giggs, Tevez (Welbeck 87).
Subs Not Used: Foster, Park, Gibson, Martin, Eckersley.
Squad: Van der Sar, Foster, Kuszczak, O'Shea, Neville, Vidic, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra, Eckersley, Ronaldo, Nani, Fletcher, Gibson, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Park, Rooney, Tevez, Welbeck, Macheda.
Possible starting XI: Van der Sar, Evra, O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Ronaldo, Carrick, Fletcher, Park, Tevez, Rooney.
Argentine hot shot Lisandro Lopez returns for Porto after sitting out the game with Guimares through suspension. He is joined by fellow South American Freddy Guarin, who has shaken off an ankle injury to make the trip to Manchester.
Romanian international Christian Sapunaru’s (ankle) faces a fight to be fit for the match as he requires a scan on an injury.
Club captain Pedro Emanuel (knee), Nelson Benitez (groin) and Jorge Fucile (ankle) remain on the treatment table, whilst teenage striker Rabiola has been left out of the squad.
Last starting XI (vs. Guimares): Helton, Rolando, Bruno Alves, Sapunaru, Cissokho, Meireles, Costa, Fernando, Gonzalez, Farias, Hulk
Squad: Helton, Nuno, Bruno Alves, Cissokho, Rolando, Sapunaru, Stepanov, Madrid, Fernando, Gonzalez, Mariano, Meireles, Guarin, Costa, Farias, Lopez, Hulk, Rodriguez, Sektioui.
Possible starting XI: Helton, Bruno Alves, Rolando, Sapunaru, Cissokho, Meireles, Costa, Fernando, Gonzalez, Hulk, Lisandro Lopez.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo will be fired up to face Porto. The United No. 7 left the field on a stretcher the last time the sides met. He’ll be hoping for a repeat of his match winning exploits against fellow Portuguese Sporting Lisbon last season rather than another ignominious exit.
Porto: Another solid performance from centre back Bruno Alves should justify his position at the top of many club’s summer shopping lists. Strong in the tackle and dominant in the air, it’s easy to see why the Portuguese international is attracting admiring glances from Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Anyone tuning in for a repeat of the weekend’s rollercoaster ride at Old Trafford is going to be disappointed.
Porto and Manchester United will be a cagey affair, in which I expect the extra class of the Champions League holders to tell.
A narrow victory for the Red Devils will leave everything still to play for when the sides meet at the Estadio do Dragao in two weeks time.
Manchester United 1-0 Porto
Matt Monaghan, Goal.com