Maccabi Haifa vManchester United
Maccabi’s slim chance of qualification have received a boost with the news that Manchester United – safely through to the second phase – will field a weakened team in the team’s Group F clash tonight.
Laurent Blanc, Juan Sebastian Veron, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Fabien Barthez are all rested, while Nicky Butt, Wes Brown, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane all remain out injured.
However Ferguson is wary of causing controversy by handing teams advantages with weakened teams, so established first team members Paul Scholes, Ole Solksjaer, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville are expected to figure. But Sir Alex has revealed that the resting of star players will give some of the club’s younger players a chance to shine.
“This is an opportunity for some of the younger players to confirm what we think of them,” he said.
Eighteen year-old winger Kieran Richardson is set to get his first start for the club, while 17 year-old Danish starlet Mads Timm will also get a slice of the action.
“Mads has been with us for two years and has a terrific temperament, while Kieran got alittle taste of it when he came on last week,” revealed Ferguson, who is also expected to hand a first start to new ‘keeper Ricardo.
If Maccabi, forced to play the game in Cyprus due to the crisis in Israel, win tonight and Olympiakos beat Leverkusen, all three teams will be on six points behind runaway leaders United – leaving any one of them a chance of qualification.
Although quick to recognise Haifa are still underdogs,defender Alon Harazi was confident that the Israelis could have a say in the outcome of the group.
“Even without key players United are a better team than Haifa and we have to take everything in proportion,” he said.
“But I feel that we are going to get a good result.”
Awate, Cohen, Benado, Ejiofor, Keisi, Rosso, Badir, Zano, Pralija, Katan, Israelavic
: Ricardo, G. Neville. O’Shea, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Fortune, P. Neville, Scholes, Richardson, Forlan, Solskjaer
Bayer Leverkusen v Olympiakos
In tonight’s grudge match between Leverkusen and Olympiakos, Bayer coach Klaus Toppmoller has promised pay back time for the Germans.
Leverkusen can comfortably qualify this evening if they beat the Greek side at the BayArena, despite being humiliated 6-2 by Olympiakos in their opening group game.
“I can promise that the team will deliver a different performance in the next match against Olympiakos. As you know we have got a score to settle with them (Olympiakos),” Toppmoller warned after last week’s narrow win over Maccabi Haifa.
“If you have been kicked once you don’t hang around waiting until you get kicked again – you kick back first,” he has since added. If last year’s runners up do fail to make the next stage they will only have themselves to blame, as Toppmoller is well aware.
“Last season we managed to settle all of our scores in the BayArena and that is what we are looking to do again this time around. We have got everything in our own hands,” he admitted.
The odds are stacked in Leverkusen’s favour, with Olympiakos failing to record a Champions League win away from Greece in eighteen attempts. A win for the Greek champions would bring them level on points with the Germans, and right back into contention going intothe final game with Macabbi Haifa. A draw however, would leave them needing to beat the Israelis while relying on United to beat Leverkusen. A defeat of course, would consign them to elimination.
But forward Stylianos Giannakopoulos was adamant that, despite the record books pointing comprehensively to a home win, Olympiakos would prevail. “We didn’t come here to lose or draw,” said Giannakopoulos.
“We need a win and that is what we will get.” Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov returns for Leverkusen, but Carsten Ramelow is still doubtful.
Olympiakos are wthout suspended Brazilian Ze Elias. Christian Karembeu, injured at the weekend, will play however.