Match preview: Athletic Bilbao vs Manchester United
Athletic Bilbao are firmly in the driving seat ahead of their 2nd leg home game against Manchester United. A driving seat that has no brakes and a transmission gearbox with no reverse.
Regardless of what the situation demands, Bilbao will press hard and high up the pitch and would never sit deep in their half, waiting for the opposition to make use of the possession.
Athletic lost their weekend league match against Osasuna (2-1) and missed the chance of going fourth – level on points with Malaga but ahead on Goal difference. They have dropped two places to seventh and the fight for the last Champions League spot is seemingly headed for a three way challenge between Malaga, Atletico Madrid and Bilabao.
Meanwhile, Manchester United have convincingly won their weekend fixture against West Brom and are top of the league for the first time since October – thanks to a slip-up from Manchester City against Swansea.
Sir Alex Ferguson deployed a rare 4-2-3-1 formation with Welbeck and Rooney working behind Chicharito upfront last Sunday and should start the attacking triumvirate tonight. United have to score at least two goals at one end and keep a clean sheet at the other end to ensure it’s progress to Quarters. With the United players taking turns to keep the team doctors busy this season, Valencia and Cleverley will be available for selection while Anderson, Phil Jones, and Nani will miss the match.
To compound Sir Alex Ferguson’s selection headache, his abysmal record against Spanish sides almost reads like a Villas-Boas run of games with Chelsea before his sacking. Ferguson’s 12 games in Spain as Man Utd manager has ended in only two wins (Valencia and Deportivo). The last time they had overturned a first leg deficit was in 1984 against Barcelona.
Rio Ferdinand, who was left as an unused substitute in the first leg at Old Trafford, should be back partnering Jhonny Evans in centre-back. Rafael da Silva should be starting as a rightback despite being guilty of letting Bilbao score the third goal. Patrice Evra must start the game in his usual position at leftback.
Choosing the right players to man United’s midfield won’t be easy for Sir Alex, he completely got his selection wrong by playing Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones in the first leg. Starting Cleverley and Carrick in central midfield will bear some semblance to a strong engine room that can attack and defend. Young might get the nod ahead of Valencia and Rooney, Welbeck and Chicharito should be Man Utd vanguard.
Wayne Rooney will be the man to watch in this game as he is on a hot goal streak, scoring nine goals in his last six games.