Manchester United FC are not short on motivation going into their home match against a Sporting Clube de Portugal side fighting to stay in Group F contention.
Manchester United FC may be already assured of a place in the last 16 but manager Sir Alex Ferguson stressed they will not be short on motivation going into their home match against a Sporting Clube de Portugal side fighting to stay alive in the UEFA Champions League.
Sir Alex is eager that United secure a fifth straight win in order to ensure themselves top spot in Group F. "I think the incentives are huge for us," said the Scot. "Obviously if we win, we win the group and therefore we can look forward to being seeded for February's knockout stage." While the United manager's concern is a favourable draw in the next round, survival is the goal for Sporting. Paulo Bento's charges lie third in the section, three points behind AS Roma, and will have to settle for their "second objective" of a UEFA Cup place unless they can better the result the Italian team achieve away to FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Dip in form
"We will play in the Theatre of Dreams but we will play with reality, taking into account our circumstances," said Bento, only too aware that the UEFA Cup is a more realistic aim. Sporting's recent dip in form – Saturday's 1-1 draw at Leixões SC was their fourth match without victory – does not augur well although Bento dismissed talk of a crisis of confidence. "There is no ideal moment to play a team with the quality of Manchester United," he said.
"We will try to achieve our first goal and if not, our second," added Bento, underlining that whatever the outcome here, his side can likely look forward to continued involvement in at least one European competition. For that reason, Bento hopes Sporting's players will savour the occasion at Old Trafford. "If I was a player, I would take the opportunity to enjoy it to the full. The stadium, the atmosphere, these things don't come along so often. In recent years Sporting have not played so many times at this level."
That said, nobody would begrudge a show of nerves from Sporting's 19-year-old goalkeeper Rui Patrício, who is poised for his UEFA Champions League debut having made his first appearance of 2007/08 against Leixões. Further upfield, Bento may choose to field Liedson as a lone striker, although another option might be to partner him with Milan Purović, a goalscoring substitute against Leixões.
For United, Sir Alex said he will not play "too many of our younger players" but the trio of goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea should start and he hinted in his programme notes that 19-year-old defender Jonny Evans could also feature. With Cristiano Ronaldo – who scored the only goal when the teams met in Lisbon on Matchday 1 – back after missing the 1-0 defeat at Bolton Wanderers FC, United's lineup will also include two Sporting old boys in the winger and Nani. Sir Alex added that he is "delighted" with Nani's efforts since his summer arrival from Lisbon. "We're very pleased with Nani's performance since he came. For a young boy, he has settled in very well and he is showing almost every week an improvement."