Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes his team could not have been given a tougher UEFA Champions League first knockout round draw than Olympique Lyonnais – even though the only time they have won at this stage is against French opposition.
In the first two seasons after the second group stage was replaced, United fell to FC Porto and AC Milan. But last term two 1-0 victories against LOSC Lille Métropole aided United on their way to the semi-finals; in contrast Lyon's run of success in every first knockout round tie they had played ended they were held 0-0 at AS Roma and lost 2-0 at home last season. Before progressing to this round in 2004/05, United and Lyon met for the only time in the group stage, the English side drawing 2-2 in France after trailing by two at half-time before winning 2-1 at Old Trafford, Gary Neville scoring a rare goal.
Home fans key
However, Sir Alex is not taking a repeat triumph for granted but is pleased to play in front of his own fans in the return on 4 March after visiting the Stade de Gerland on 20 February. "It's maybe the hardest of the five [possible draws] we could have got," he said. "Lyon have won their league for the last six seasons in a row, that's an incredible record. They've lost some players over the last few years but they're always capable of producing new ones. We just hope we've got our full squad available at that stage of the season. It's not an easy tie but we have a good chance. It's important to come back from France with a good result. Then our fans, with Old Trafford at its loudest, can help us go through."
Lyon have won only once at home in five visits from English opposition, yet they have prevailed in two of their three European knockout ties against United's domestic rivals. Assistant coach Christophe Galtier, whose team recovered from losing their first two group games to pick up ten points from four matches including a decisive 3-0 victory at Rangers FC, thinks United's success at this stage last season could motivate two of his squad.
"Porto or Sevilla [FC] might have seemed more beatable but instead it will be United coming with all their prestige," Galtier said. "It will be a top-level game. We will be dark horses – no one believed we could reach the last 16 and now United are expected to topple us. But another surprise is possible. This season we have two former Lille players, Mathieu Bodmer and Kader Keita. It will be a revenge mission for them."
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