Mutual admiration in Manchester

There was a fair trade in compliments as Manchester United FC prepared to welcome VfB Stuttgart.

By Jonathan Caswell in Manchester

Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be seeking to celebrate agreeing a new contract with a victory against VfB Stuttgart that would confirm the English champions' place at the top of UEFA Champions League Group E.

Three points required
With both sides having secured their progress to the knockout rounds on Matchday 5, United need three points at Old Trafford to win the section, having suffered a 2-1 reverse in Germany on Matchday 2.

'Powerful and confident'
Sir Alex, who is poised to extend his 17-year reign until 2007 under the terms of his new deal, acknowledges that his team face a formidable task against the Bundesliga leaders, who are yet to lose in the league this season. "I believe they are a powerful team and are playing with a lot of confidence and I rate them very highly," said the United manager.

Durable defending
Stuttgart's success is based on solid defending, and Sir Alex believes the key to overcoming Felix Magath's side is scoring first. "It's important not to go a goal down against them," he said. "They work very hard to stop you getting back in the game."

Midfield reshuffle
United captain Roy Keane is likely to be rested ahead of Saturday's Premiership meeting with neighbours Manchester City FC, but England international midfield player Paul Scholes is in line to return after a groin injury.

'Magnificent player'
Scholes came on as a substitute in a 4-0 win against Aston Villa FC at the weekend, and Sir Alex pointed out that he was a key figure in the United team, saying: "Scholes has scored over 100 goals for the club and is a magnificent player. The way he arrives late in the box is so good and he is such a threat. He is one of the best players in the world."

'Extra dimension'
Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, who is likely to lead United as they head for the knockout stages for a record eighth successive season, also welcomed Scholes's return, saying: "It's good for the team. He opens up defences and plays people like me in so often. He is such a comfortable player on the ball and brings an extra dimension."

Carroll comes in
Ole Gunnar Solskjær is still missing, while Roy Carroll could deputise for Tim Howard in goal as the American is struggling with a muscle problem. Magath admitted his side face a stern test in England, but believes Stuttgart have what it takes to hold off United, even without defender Marcelo Bordon, who misses the match through injury.

'United are favourites'
"Manchester United seem to be in good form and will of course be favourites," said the Stuttgart coach. "But we don't want to come here and lie down. We want to win the group and go into the knockout stages as winners."

Case for defence
Magath revealed he would not be making any special plans for United's prolific Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooij, saying: "We are not just playing Van Nistelrooij - we are playing Manchester United. Our defence is strong and we hope it will be just as strong again."