first leg : 1-1
Old Trafford has long been one of European football’s most redoubtable fortresses and Sir Alex Ferguson believes home advantage will prove telling when Manchester United FC conclude their first knockout round tie against French champions Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday.
Cause for confidence
Carlos Tévez’s 87th-minute equaliser in the sides’ 1-1 draw at the Stade de Gerland leaves United favourites to reach the last eight and their record of nine successive European home wins provides extra cause for confidence. “Our home record in European football has been very good for a long time,” said Sir Alex. “The atmosphere at Old Trafford on a European night helps.”
United have not lost to continental opposition at this venue since AC Milan prevailed at this stage of the 2004/05 campaign – and a victory over Lyon would see the English champions equal Juventus’s record of ten consecutive home wins in the UEFA Champions League, established between 1996 and 1998. Yet while Lyon went down 2-1 on their only previous trip here in 2004, Sir Alex is wary of the attacking potential of a visiting team beaten just once in their last seven away fixtures in the competition.
‘Reminds me of Zidane’
“Lyon will come knowing they have to get a goal,” said the United manager, who highlighted the threat of Karim Benzema, scorer of a spectacular opener in the first leg. “He is a very strong boy, he reminds me a little bit of [Zinédine] Zidane – physique wise and possibly pace wise too. He is a natural centre-forward.” Having played wide left in Lyon’s last two matches, Benzema will be happy to revert to a central striking role with Fred – scorer of the only goal against LOSC Lille Métropole on Saturday – dropping to the bench.
‘Have to attack’
Lyon coach Alain Perrin believes Benzema capable of playing a decisive part in a contest where, by his own admission, the balance now rests with United. “He has the ability to make the difference on his own, to create opportunities even when space is restricted,” said Perrin, who did not face United during his six-month spell in England with Portsmouth FC in 2005. “We are out as things stand, so we have to attack,” added Perrin, albeit with the rejoinder that dismantling the Premier League’s most miserly defence would not be easy. “Their positioning is excellent and they are very experienced with players like [Rio] Ferdinand and [Nemanja] Vidić in the centre, who are good at winning their individual battles.”
With Ryan Giggs struggling with a calf problem, winger Nani should start and maintain his record as United’s only ever-present in Europe this term. A goalless draw would be enough for United but Sir Alex, whose charges beat Fulham FC 3-0 on Saturday, promised “attacking football” and his programme notes dwelled on the influence of striker Tévez. The Argentinian is just one of the star forwards that a Lyon rearguard missing the suspended Anthony Réveillère yet featuring the fit-again Cris – fresh from his first appearance since August – will have to watch closely. “He has a knack of rising to the occasion,” said the Scot, drawing comparisons with Eric Cantona.
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