Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson was relieved to avoid meeting the English FA Premiership's other UEFA Champions League contenders Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals of the competition, but a tie with RC Deportivo La Coruña will prove every bit as worrying for the veteran manager. The Spanish side have been United's achilles heel in the Champions League this season, recording impressive victories against the English champions on Matchday Three and Matchday Four.
With their manager having now abandoned his plans to retire at the end of the season, United have played with a renewed vigour after a stuttering start to their campaign. Once more, the English champions have been demonstrating the kind of collective endeavour that has shown them become such formidable opponents in Europe. With Ruud van Nistelrooij and Ole Gunnar Solskjær providing plenty of goals and United playing their European games at the usual break-neck English pace, they are an intimidating side to behold. With David Beckham's creativity and expertise from set-pieces, Ryan Giggs superb wide play and captain Roy Keane's Herculean commitment, United possess one of the most potent midfield lines in European football.
United have begun to show a few inconsistencies in defence. The experienced Laurent Blanc has added experience to their back line, but questions have been asked over the French international's lack of pace and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez is prone to lapses of concentration. Perhaps more troublesome is the influence of United's record signing, midfield player Juan Sebastián Veron who has occasionally proved to be a questionable asset since his arrival from S.S. Lazio. Incorporating the gifted Argentinian into the side has often necessitated fiddling with United's previously rigid 4-4-2 formation and has a tendency to unsettle the rest of the team.
First group stage:
Two defeats against Deportivo in Group G had many predicting an unhappy end for United. They had made a decent enough start with a 2-0 away win against Olympiakos Piraeus FC, but a narrow 1-0 victory at home against Lille OSC was less impressive. A 2-1 defeat at the Municpal de Riazor was a warning shot for United but the Spanish side's subsequent 3-2 win at Old Trafford was an unpleasant surprise. A second win against Olympiakos and a draw in Lille saw United earn second place in the group in slightly underwhelming style.
Second group stage:
Despite being drawn with old rivals FC Bayern München in Group A, United found the second group stage less problematic than the first, emerging as group winners on goal difference. A late Paulo Sergio goal at the Olympiastadion earned Bayern the first of two draws against United, but the two sides had fewer problems against Boavista FC and FC Nantes Atlantique, although it took a late Van Nistelrooij penalty to earn United a point at Nantes on Matchday Nine.
UEFA Champions League statistics:
Played: 12 Won: 6 Drawn: 4 Lost: 2 Goals scored: 23 Goals Against: 9
Top goalscorer: Van Nistelrooij (8)
Last five results:
29 March FA Premiership Leeds United AFC (a) 4-3
22 March FA Premiership Middlesbrough FC (h) 0-1
19 March UEFA Champions League Boavista FC (a) 3-0
16 March FA Premiership West Ham United FC (a) 5-3
13 March UEFA Champions League FC Bayern München (h) 0-0
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