Manchester United FC complete the first stage of their title defence against Aalborg BK with Sir Alex Ferguson confident that they are better placed to retain the trophy than they were after their last triumph in 1999.
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Manchester United FC complete the first stage of the defence of their European title against Aalborg BK with Sir Alex Ferguson confident they are better placed to retain the trophy than they were after their last triumph.
Reflecting on his side's success in qualifying from Group E with a game to spare, United's manager said: "We have a good squad that has quality in depth as well as being bigger than last year's. We are certainly better equipped to defend our trophy than we were after winning it in 1999." Sir Alex, in his programme notes for the AaB match, said his first victorious squad were proved "naive tactically" but there is no danger of anyone making the same accusation of today's team, who boast the competition's meanest back line with just one goal conceded. Indeed another clean sheet against AaB will ensure their best defensive record in a UEFA Champions League group stage.
'Better to be No1'
Sir Alex praised the maturity of United's display in the goalless draw at Villarreal CF that confirmed qualification – "we showed our experience" – but stressed the importance of ensuring they maintain first place in the section ahead of the Spanish side who visit Celtic FC and whom they lead on goal difference alone. "It's always better to be No1," he said. "Our experiences of being second have not been good over the years. It's better we win the group and then we know we have a home leg in the second game in the last 16." The Scot is missing Michael Carrick and has doubts over Cristiano Ronaldo, victim of a hip injury in Saturday's 1-0 win against Sunderland AFC; the Portuguese will parade his Ballon D'Or trophy before kick-off but will likely be one of several regular starters missing against an AaB side who have come to life under caretaker coach Allan Kuhn.
Kuhn, who replaced Bruce Rioch following the 6-3 loss at Villarreal in late October, has overseen quite a transformation, the Danish champions since going eleven matches undefeated. Their current six-game winning streak includes the 2-1 defeat of Celtic FC that secured third position in the group and a UEFA Cup berth and Sunday's victory at Randers FC by the same score. "I'm really proud of what we've achieved," said Kuhn who, despite the loss of experienced midfielder Andreas Johansson to suspension, warned that AaB were now "a much better side" than when going down 3-0 at home to United in September.
'Won't let ourselves down'
"It will be great to come to Old Trafford and we won't let ourselves down, we promise you that 100 per cent," added Kuhn, who returns to his previous post as assistant coach after this match, handing the reins to Magnus Pehrsson. "We're not afraid to go out there, that's the most important thing, and we'll all do our best to put on a good performance." United have won their last ten at home in all competitions but Kuhn is hopeful of bowing out unbeaten. "If we can hold them away from our goal for the first 15 minutes and keep possession we will give ourselves a chance." All of that and "some good saves from our goalkeeper – you need that in a game like this."