Manchester United aiming for Champions League top spot
Monday 21 November 2011
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."
Latest in Sport
Anderlecht vs Arsenal match report: Kieran Gibbs and Lukas Podolski pounce as Arsenal leave it late
Liverpool vs Real Madrid player ratings: Was Cristiano Ronaldo the star man? And how did Mario Balotelli fare?
Liverpool vs Real Madrid match report: Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema run Reds ragged at Anfield
Arsenal player ratings
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991 with most Brits wanting to stay in'
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'