Manchester: Manchester United will field their strongest side against Valencia in Tuesday’s Champions League game despite having already reached the next round, manager Alex Ferguson said on Monday.
Ferguson, whose team’s next two Premier League matches are against leaders Arsenal and champions Chelsea, could have rested players for the final Group C match but after 10 days without a game is keen to use his best ones to seal top spot.
The English side lead the group with 13 points from five matches, while Valencia have 10 and could snatch first place -- and a better chance of avoiding the big guns in the next round -- with a win at Old Trafford due to a better goal difference.
Teams who finish top will be drawn against group runners-up in the Dec. 17 draw for the knockout stages.
“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,” Ferguson told a news conference.
“We can only do that if we finish top of our group and that’s what we want to do.”
United’s players have had extra rest after their weekend league fixture at Blackpool was postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Many first-team players have not played since the 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers on Nov. 27, with a second-string side thrashed 4-0 by West Ham United in the League Cup quarter-finals last week.
“We’d have preferred to have played a game on Saturday. The only advantage we’ve got is that no one gets injured,” said Ferguson. “They haven’t played for 10 days.
“I will play my strongest side tomorrow and then we have six days to prepare for the Arsenal game so it’s OK.”
Ferguson has this season experimented with some of his younger players in Champions League games and it has paid off as United stand on the verge of becoming the first team to get through all their group matches without conceding a goal.
It has, however, been a different story domestically and some of those young players were involved in the West Ham humiliation which ended the team’s 29-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
“In European games, they realise that maybe concentration has got to be 100 percent,” Ferguson said.
“It’s a different atmosphere and a different challenge. All players like to be involved in the European cup. You know that if you win your group you are into that stage of the tournament where it becomes very interesting.”
Ferguson has no new injury concerns but said he would not risk playing striker Michael Owen, who returned to first team training last week following a hamstring problem.