As Manchester United FC travel to Leeds United AFC on Saturday, the UEFA Champions League will be a serious issue for both sides.
All eyes on Europe
United face the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against RC Deportivo La Coruña at the Municipal de Riazor on Tuesday, while Leeds know that they need to overhaul fourth-placed Newcastle United FC to earn a place in Europe's top club competition.
Shock defeat for United
With last week's shock home defeat against Middlesbrough FC, United lost their place at the top of the FA Premiership table to Liverpool FC, and a win in Yorkshire would be priceless, especially since third-placed Arsenal FC go into the weekend just one point behind them with two games in hand.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be wary of putting too much pressure on some of his players who have been nursing injuries. Welsh winger Ryan Giggs complained of a tight hamstring after last Saturday's game while Ole Gunnar Solskjær is nursing an ankle injury. As if that were not bad enough, Ronny Johnsen has a slight hamstring strain, inspirational captain Roy Keane has been troubled by a hip injury and top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooij is recovering from a groin problem.
Form in pressure games
United's form against their fellow title challengers this season has been the cause for some concern in advance of Saturday's game - they have lost twice against Liverpool, lost their only game against Arsenal, lost one and won one against fourth-placed Newcastle United FC and surprisingly drew 1-1 at home to fifth-placed Leeds. "I think it's something we need to address and we always used to produce our best performances in the big games," said Ryan Giggs. "We have not done that this year."
Leeds target Champions League
United can take some comfort in the knowledge that things are hardly going to be easy for their opponents on Saturday either. Having been knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the fifth round by PSV Eindhoven, Leeds know that they must finish in the top four in England to have a chance of returning to the Champions League. "Now we are focusing on our goal which is to qualify for the Champions League," said O'Leary, no doubt remembering that it was his side that were preparing to face Deportivo in the competition this time last season.
No picnic for O'Leary
This week has certainly been no picnic for the Leeds manager who was already lamenting the absence of Rio Ferdinand, Olivier Dacourt and Eirik Bakke before Dominic Matteo picked up a calf injury during Scotland's 5-0 defeat against France. "Rio and Olly are very doubtful," said an exasperated O'Leary. "I've had hardly anybody here this week and I'm preparing for a game against Manchester United."
A tantalising opportunity
With Michael Duberry definitely missing with a hamstring problem, Danny Mills may have to move into central defence with Gary Kelly returning at right-back as Leeds aim to win against United for the first time since September 1997. If they can do so - and scupper their old rivals' title hopes at the same time - many Leeds supporters will feel that their topsy-turvy season has all been worthwhile.
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