After what's basically turned into a 10 day layoff for Manchester United, they're facing a run of 3 pretty important games over the next 10 days. First up: Valencia on Matchday 6 of the UEFA Champions League Group Stage.
Unlike years past, where Matchday 6 was a mere formality, there's first place in the group up for grabs. All United need to do to secure that all important top spot is draw or win, something they've done in the previous 5 matches this UCL season.
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They're also chasing the record of becoming the first team to go through the group stage on 6 consecutive clean sheets, which is all the more impressive when you consider how poor the back 4 have seemed at times, earlier in the season.
With all of these things in mind, Manchester United are expected to field their strongest, healthiest starting 11 tonight. Sir Alex Ferguson said in the UEFA presser yesterday, "I will play my strongest side tomorrow and then we have six days to prepare for the Arsenal game so it's OK."
On how important it is to win the group, "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."
Here's a list of who's leading (or co-leading) their groups: Group A: Tottenham, Inter Milan; Group B: Schalke 04, Lyon; Group D: Barcelona; Group E: Bayern Munich; Group F: Chelsea, Marseille; Group G: Real Madrid, AC Milan; Group H: Shakhtar Donetsk (Arsenal could still win this group, but need help).
That's a pretty formidable list, and one United are keen to avoid in the next round.
Since Valencia need to secure all three points to win the group, I would expect them to throw as many people forward as possible, without leaving their back exposed. I fully expect Valencia to attempt to control the play, the tempo of the game and the possession % and I don't expect that they would slow down should they go 1-0 up early on.
United, on the other hand, will be happy to end the game 0-0, so I would expect them to be in a VERY defensive formation...perhaps a 4-5-1, with Dimitar Berbatov up top and Wayne Rooney running roughshod all over the pitch. Because of this, expect a fairly boring game from United in the Valencia third. This match is probably the equivalent of being up 2-0 in the second leg of the later stages...winning the match isn't the most important thing...keeping the opponent from winning is.