United, Spurs desperate to avoid Barcelona trial

Paris: Manchester United and Barcelona complete the formalities of the Champions League group phase on Tuesday, desperately playing down their roles as favourites but also keen to get their mathematics right.

United face fellow second-round qualifiers Valencia at Old Trafford with the only issue at stake being who finishes top of Group C.

The Spanish side are three points behind but to take top spot they must become the first team to score against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in Europe this term.

Ferguson will play a competitive side as he wants to make sure United finish top and avoid the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona until the latter stages of the competition.

“We will be playing a strong side because we want to top the group,” said Ferguson. “Real Madrid are top of their group, Barcelona are top, Bayern (Munich) are top.

“It’s not that you’re afraid of them but you want to keep them out of the road until later.”

Owen Hargreaves and Antonio Valencia remain long-term absentees for United, although Michael Owen is close to making a comeback from a hamstring injury.

Barcelona, buoyed by their 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid and Saturday’s 3-0 win at Osasuna, have already ensured top spot in Group D.

Fringe players such as Bojan Krkic, Jeffren and Thiago Alcantara could be drafted in for the home clash with Rubin Kazan, who can grab the runners-up spot.

“We have managed to take first place in the group, which is very important,” said Barcelona star Pedro Rodriguez.

“However, it’s far too early to talk about winning the Champions League.”

Rubin Kazan, who stunned Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou last season, have six points to Copenhagen’s seven, with the Danish side finishing their first stage fixtures with a home game against Panathinaikos.

In Group A, Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp admitted he is also desperate for his side to secure top spot with a victory over FC Twente because that would ensure they avoid facing Barcelona in the first knockout round.

Spurs have already qualified for the last 16 but Redknapp isn’t taking their trip to Holland lightly because he knows failure to win could see them surrender first place to defending champions Inter Milan, who currently trail the Londoners on goal difference.

“Inter Milan will go to Germany (to face Werder Bremen) looking to win because that top position is important,” said Redknapp, who saw Barcelona demolish Real Madrid last week.

“I think anyone wants to avoid Barcelona. It (the win over Real) was just amazing; it was as good as I have ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better performance.”

In Group B, Schalke and Lyon are also already assured of qualification with the German side a point ahead.

To overhaul the leaders, Lyon must beat Hapoel Tel-Aviv and hope Schalke fail to win at Benfica.

Schalke travel to Portugal buoyed by their 2-0 win at home to defending Bundesliga champions Bayern on Saturday, with goals from Spain midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado and defender Benedikt Hoewedes.

Bureau Report

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