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By Jonathan Caswell in Manchester
Not only would victory against Olympique Lyonnais take Manchester United FC through to the UEFA Champions League knockout stages for the ninth year running with one match to spare, but it would also be the perfect way to mark Sir Alex Ferguson's 1,000th game as manager.
On 8 October 1986, the then plain Mr Ferguson, formerly in charge of Aberdeen FC, saw his new side lose 2-0 to Oxford United FC. Since then the now knighted Sir Alex has claimed 27 trophies, including the 1998/99 Champions League crown in a dramatic final against FC Bayern München - but the Scotsman maintains his hunger for occasions such as Tuesday's.
He said: "This is probably the perfect game for my 1,000th match, a European tie.
Some of the greatest nights we have had have been European matches and hopefully we will have another tomorrow night."
Having masterminded United's second European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph to follow the 1967/68 success, Sir Alex remains ambitious to repeat the feat. "In terms of the history of this club we should have won this trophy as many times as Bayern, [AFC] Ajax and [AC] Milan."
However, that 1999 success was the only time an English side have lifted the trophy since clubs from that nation were banned from European competition in the late 1980s. Sir Alex said: "That five-year gap was a terrible problem for English clubs and it took us a long time to get back in."
He added: "I think we had a barometer in Juventus [FC]. We got them two or three times. The intimidation of Juventus's name at their ground was too much for us. And then we beat them at their ground and then we just got better and better and they were a good barometer of our progress because they were one of the best teams in Europe at the time."
Three points against already-qualified Lyon would guarantee United's progress and take them into first place, but even a draw should prove enough, barring a heavy defeat on Matchday 6 at Fenerbahçe SK. Louis Saha, sidelined with a knee injury, is the only United absentee, with Saturday's victory against Charlton Athletic FC producing Paul Scholes' first goal of the season and returns to action for Ruud van Nistelrooij and Roy Keane.
While Lyon may be through, they know an away win would guarantee first place in the group - meaning they avoid the likes of Chelsea FC and Juventus in the next round. Lyon coach Paul Le Guen, a 22-year-old player with Stade Brestois 29 when Sir Alex took over at United, does admit, however, that the Matchday 4 victory that ensured their progress has eased the burden on his side.
"Our situation might have been quite different had we not beaten Fenerbahçe 4-2 at the beginning of November, but we did and the pressure is not on us any more," said Le Guen, whose side are three points clear in Ligue 1 as they bid for a fourth consecutive title, said. "
Physically and tactically we have done our homework."
Lyon striker Giovane Elber is out with a broken leg, while midfield player Hatem Ben Arfa has a collarbone fracture and goalkeeper Grégory Coupet and defenders Eric Abidal and Claudio Caçapa all are absent with knee problems. None of this overly worries Le Guen, however. "I have got confidence in my players coming in and our biggest strength is our collective spirit," the coach said.
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