Manchester United aiming for Champions League top spot

 

Manchester United have set out their stall to reach the Champions League knockout stage as group winners.

After opening their campaign with a couple of draws, United got themselves back on track by recording successive victories over Romanian minnows Otelul Galati.

It means that victory over Benfica at Old Trafford tomorrow night would mean, at worst, Sir Alex Ferguson's men would require a point from their last-day encounter with Basle to reach the last 16.

However, according to midfielder Darren Fletcher, that conclusion alone would not be satisfactory for the Red Devils.

"You do want to finish top," he said.

"First and foremost you look to qualify for the knockout stages but we saw Arsenal finish second last season and end up with Barcelona in the first knockout round.

"Although people say you have to beat these teams if you want to win the competition, it is good to avoid them until later on.

"It also give you little perks like having the second leg at home.

"There are a few aspects to topping the group which benefit you in the long run."

After being left out of Saturday's Premier League win at Swansea, Fletcher is expected to face the Portuguese giants, who had the better of a draw with United at the Stadium of Light in September.

In fact, their form had been better than the Premier League side until the last round of matches, when they surprisingly dropped a couple of points at home to Basle which raised the spectre of three teams finishing level on 11 points, which would blow apart Ferguson's long-established theory of 10 being enough.

Victory needs to be achieved therefore, with no United supporter needing reminding that it was a defeat to Benfica in 2005 that sent them tumbling out of the group stage.

Amazingly, the Old Trafford outfit recovered from that hammer blow and have gone on to reach three finals, a semi-final and a quarter in the five seasons since.

Little wonder Fletcher confirms how important the tournament is.

"It is still special," said the Scotland skipper.

"It is great hearing that music. It makes you feel you are part of the best club competition in the world.

"The atmospheres are fantastic. It is something you want to be a part of."

PA

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