Ferguson knows every point is crucial in three-way battle


Usually at this time of the Champions League year, Sir Alex Ferguson is asked if he would prefer to finish first or second in the group. The Manchester United manager has a stock answer which he employs as frequently as his statement that 10 points will see his club through to the knockout stages. In essence, it is that it seldom matters.

Not this time, though. If Arsenal and Chelsea qualify as group winners, the likelihood is that a Manchester United side, whose Champions League displays thus far have either been sterile or slipshod, will meet one of the big beasts of European football – be it Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich – in the round of 16.

There is a chance that finishing second could see the club paired with Apoel Nicosia, the unfancied leaders of Group G, but that is a risk not even a lifelong gambler like Ferguson may be prepared to take.

The determination of the Uefa president, Michel Platini, to introduce more clubs to the Champions League who have actually won their own championship has given a platform to clubs such as Romania's Otelul Galati, who are on course to finish pointless. Should that happen, then all three teams could end up with 11 points.

A fixture between Manchester United and Benfica comes laden with history, although Ferguson preferred to dwell on the immediate future, arguing that although Wayne Rooney had missed training, he would be available to face a side that has still not lost this season.

However, the fact that only once since 1994 have Benfica qualified from their group tells a story of a side that too often fails to match its hype. The team of Di Maria and Luiz that flattened Everton two years ago was taken apart in the Europa League quarter-finals by a Liverpool side close to collapse under Rafael Benitez.

"Benfica will play with a lot of care because they know they are away. Their strength is in midfield and, if we can control that, we will be fine," said Luis Nani, although the midfielder admitted his record against them for Sporting Lisbon was merely "Ok". Given the complexities of the group, okay may not be quite enough.

Key confrontations

Javier Hernandez v Luisao

Fresh off the back of his winner at the weekend, Hernandez will hope to add to his five goals this season by using his pace against the experienced Brazilian defender who can be slow off the mark.

Michael Carrick v Nicolas Gaitan

The influential Argentine has created a goal in each of Benfica's group stage games this season. Carrick, who Sir Alex Ferguson now believes is getting back to his best, will try to make sure the playmaker sees as little of the ball as possible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot