Manchesters united in Champions League improvement

Manchester: The two Manchester clubs have applied everything they learnt in last month`s stunning derby to getting themselves on track for the Champions League knockout stage with City continuing to attack relentlessly and United tightening up at the back.

The 6-1 mauling by City at Old Trafford showed up United`s defensive frailties and Alex Ferguson`s side have since strung together three successive wins with clean sheets, including Wednesday`s 2-0 European win over Otelul Galati.

The victory lifted them to the top of Group C and within touching distance of the last 16, while City`s 3-0 win at Villarreal in Group A put them one victory away from the next round as both clubs have recovered from indifferent starts.

Scoring at least three goals a game has become run of the mill for City, who have managed that in six of their last seven matches. After a draw and defeat in their opening group games, they have brought their league form on to the European stage.

"We had 65 percent of ball possession, we scored three goals. I think this was important for our confidence," City manager Roberto Mancini told reporters.

"I think we have improved, not just in the Champions League. It is important for us to go in the second stage, then everything can happen with us because we are a good team. We can improve a lot in the next month."

His side travel to third-placed Napoli in their next game later this month and a win would put them through. They then play at home to leaders Bayern Munich in December.

United can also wrap up qualification in their next game, when last season`s runners-up host Benfica who are level on eight points.

Ferguson`s side made a lacklustre start to their campaign, despite being in a more straightforward group than City on paper, drawing their first two games before labouring to two 2-0 victories over Galati.

Plus Signs

They have lacked City`s sparkle but in true United fashion are getting the job done, with Ferguson taking their defensive improvements as a good sign.

"I am pleased our work rate was very good, we didn`t lose any goals and that is an important factor at the moment because there has been a lot of criticism of the team in terms of defending this season," he told reporters.

"These are plus signs for us. That is three games in a row without conceding a goal so that is a step forward for us."

United`s vulnerability has stemmed from injuries that have meant Ferguson has been unable to field a regular back four, while also a tendency to take a rather cavalier approach to attacking when already trailing such as in the derby.

There was no such problem on Wednesday where centre back Rio Ferdinand, stepping in for suspended captain Nemanja Vidic, kept control of his young defensive team mates and barely let the Romanians through.

While United defender Phil Jones said "it wasn`t the prettiest of games", there were other positives for his team apart from the result.

Striker Wayne Rooney took to a central midfield role as if he had played there his whole life as Ferguson, who marks 25 years in the Old Trafford hot seat this weekend, showed he can still keep thinking up new approaches.

"I played there a lot (in midfield) when I was younger," said Rooney, who was hailed by Ferguson as the team`s best player on the night.

"You get a lot of the ball there and we had to defend as well at times tonight. If the manager asks me to do it, I`m happy to do it. I don`t know if it`s long term, that`s down to the manager, so we`ll see what he decides."

Bureau Report

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